DNF: The Goddess of Nothing At All by Cat Rector

Posted 9th September 2021 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 3 Comments

The Goddess of Nothing At All (Unwritten Runes #1) by Cat Rector
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Bi/pansexual bigender MC, genderfluid love interest
Published on: 1st October 2021
Goodreads
two-stars

Perhaps you know the myths.

Furious, benevolent Gods.
A tree that binds nine realms.
A hammer stronger than any weapon.
And someday, the end of everything.

But few have heard of me.

Looking back, it’s easy to know what choices I might have made differently. At least it feels that way. I might have given up on my title. Told my father he was useless, king of Gods or no, and left Asgard. Made a life somewhere else.

Maybe I would never have let Loki cross my path. Never have fallen in love.

But there’s no going back.

We were happy once.

And the price for that happiness was the end of everything.

I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Highlights

~Thor does not rock a dress
~All the queerness please, yes good excellent
~Zeus better watch out, Odin’s coming for the Worst Dad and King God crown

This turned out to be an incredibly difficult book for me to judge objectively. I didn’t think it would be – it never crossed my mind that it might be. I don’t know the author (though I did interact with her briefly in the process of requesting an ARC) or anything. It was just a book I was hoping would be good.

But it turns out I have much stronger opinions and beliefs about the Norse myths than I thought I did, and although this retelling sticks pretty close to those myths in some ways, it deviates from them in others in ways I just couldn’t stomach.

There are still people in the world who worship the Norse gods, and witches who work with them. I’m not one of them, but I am an eclectic neopagan, and I run in those circles. I know several people who work with/are dedicated to Odin, and I guess over the years I’ve absorbed what I’ve heard and read and been told.

Rector’s depiction of Odin is a very ugly contrast to the god who is still worshipped.

But of course, that shouldn’t matter. This is a retelling of ancient stories; it was always going to be different from the ‘canon’. Rector even warns in an Author’s Note that none of the characters pass through her story untarnished; everyone comes out flawed at best and fairly awful at worst. This is fiction, not religion. It’s not fair to judge it as anything other than fiction, to give it a low score for being what it told the reader it would be and doing what it said it was going to do.

If I try and look at it more like the way I view the Thor movies… Then putting aside my discomfort with some of the characterisations as much as I can, I still have to say that I didn’t enjoy reading The Goddess of Nothing At All. It’s light on description and moves too fast, too much of the plot felt unrealistically contrived, and I didn’t feel any chemistry between Sigyn and Loki – the relationship which is supposed to be the catalyst for the entire plot. It didn’t help that they got together so quickly – I wouldn’t call it insta-love, but I couldn’t buy into it, either.

I couldn’t work out the worldbuilding – couldn’t work out the difference between the gods and the people who live alongside them in the same realm. They’re referred to as human, but are they mortals? What’s the difference between mortals and the gods? Usually I want my non-human characters to feel non-human, but I was okay with the Norse gods not feeling alien – like the Greek gods, maybe even more so, the Norse gods have always been very human. But I got no sense of the gods having their own culture, viewing the world in a unique way, nothing.

And why is Odin the one deciding what everyone’s a god of? I understood and believed in Sigyn’s frustration in not being given her title after so long, but why is that something her father is supposed to pronounce rather than something she’s supposed to discover for herself? And everyone is Odin’s child suddenly – honestly, he gave me very strong Zeus vibes, having kids left-right-and-centre and generally being a dick.

At one point – this is what I mean about the plot feeling contrived – Odin declares Sigyn must find her title within the next two weeks or else. Why??? She’s already spent 50 years trying, how does he think she’s going to manage it in 14 days? It’s such a stupid thing, illogical and mean, and such a cliche. It doesn’t make sense, either – why would gods, who are immortal, ever think in terms of a week or two? That must be a blink of the eye to them.

And even if I think of the other characters as characters, not gods who mean everything to people I know – even then: just about everyone is horrible just about all of the time, and that’s just not the kind of story I find fun to read. They’re bitter and petty and rude and cruel and prejudiced – it’s unrelenting. It’s miserable. It’s certainly not interesting. Even when the story dangles a mysterious prophecy at the reader – a prophecy concerning Sigyn, and Loki, and their role in (presumably) Ragnarok – I just didn’t care. Sigyn and Loki themselves are perfectly decent (even if Loki is still, well, Loki) but I didn’t find them compelling, wasn’t interested in them or what they were going to get up to next.

I sat down and thought hard about why I had problems with this retelling, but just read and loved Blackheart Knights, another retelling. And that actually made me much more confident in my opinion, because yes, I have more feelings about the Norse gods and myths than I do the King Arthur mythos (which is what Blackheart Knights was retelling), but if I put the two books side by side? There’s no question in my mind that Blackheart Knights is just a better book, regardless of the retelling aspect. If Rector had given the characters new names the way Laure Eve (author of Blackheart Knights) did, if The Goddess of Nothing At All had distanced itself from its ‘canon’ the way Blackheart Knights did, thereby dodging my unhappiness with the portrayal of Odin… I still wouldn’t consider it a good book. Not an appallingly bad one, either, but not up to my (admittedly extremely freaking picky) standards.

Of course, I didn’t finish reading it: maybe it improves drastically in the second half. I can’t be sure that it doesn’t. I just know that the thought of slogging through it to find out felt exhausting, and not worth the effort.

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3 responses to “DNF: The Goddess of Nothing At All by Cat Rector

  1. Elli

    As someone who finished the entire book, it went downhill for me. I found the first half both enchanting and somewhat frustrating. I breezed right through the first couple dozen chapters, even the bits that didn’t sit well with me. The second half of the book made me so anxious to read that I slowed down to a crawl and had to force myself to finish it. Odin gets worse, Thor acts like a senseless brute, friends and loved ones leave and ostracize the heroine on endless repeat, Loki makes countless illogical decisions based on personal insecurities that never quite make sense to me. And worst of all, the book does a huge nosedive in the characterization of Sigyn. I’m an eclectic pagan who works with Sigyn, and I have some strong opinions on her character. This book slanders what I understand of her essence, to the point that it feels like a tome 𝘢𝘨𝘢𝘪𝘯𝘴𝘵 the real Sigyn, not a tome in honor of her untold stories. I can’t wait until it’s published so I can discuss The Thing that irked me the most.

    • I’m really sorry to hear that, but I can’t say I’m really surprised. Although I’m now interested in what The Thing is…

      I do think we have to be careful to separate our feelings about the actual gods from our feelings about the book, which is not meant (I think/hope) to be any kind of reflection on the gods themselves. But it sounds like even if general-you separate those feelings, you-specific still didn’t enjoy the book. At all, if the second half was making you that kind of anxious (as opposed to the good kind, where you can’t stop turning pages!) If I didn’t misunderstand you?

      I really would like to interview Rector and know what her intent was with this book, because from what you’ve said, if she was trying to uplift Sigyn she’s done the exact opposite…

      • Elli

        Nudge me with a comment if I forget to come back and talk about The Thing after the book gets published. I’ve been biting my tongue, wondering if it will bother other pagans at all or if I’m just being sensitive because I care about Sigyn.

        I agree about having to be careful about separating our feelings about the actual gods from feelings about a book. I think even if I didn’t understand the actual Sigyn in a specific manner, I still wouldn’t have liked the direction the novel took. But it’s also hard to know that for certain. I can’t make claims about what I would have felt if I didn’t know Sigyn through a devotional practice.

        For whatever reason, I don’t have the same level of trouble separating things like Marvel from the actual gods. Something about this rubbed me wrong, which might just boil down to the marketing of it being Sigyn’s untold stories. That, and the fact the author looked into devotees of Loki before she wrote the book, like she wanted it to meet the requirements of Lokeans and not just casual readers with no spiritual affiliations.

        No, you didn’t misunderstand about being anxious while I read the second half. It wasn’t excitement. It was more like a feeling of dread — and not because I knew from lore how things go down with Sigyn and Loki. It was just a dread about how the characterization of Sigyn started to look and a feeling of not wanting to watch it get worse.

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