Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Trans nonbinary Seminole demiromantic pansexual MC, polyamory, brown trans love interest, plus-sized Indigenous trans love interest, QBIPOC cast, very minor fibromyalgia rep
PoV: First-person, present-tense
Published on: 28th November 2023
Infatuation. Reincarnation. Damnation.
Gem Echols is a nonbinary Seminole teen living in the tiny town of Gracie, Georgia. Known for being their peers’ queer awakening, Gem leans hard on charm to disguise the anxious mess they are beneath. The only person privy to their authentic self is another trans kid, Enzo, who’s a thousand long, painful miles away in Brooklyn.
But even Enzo doesn’t know about Gem’s dreams, haunting visions of magic and violence that have always felt too real. So how the hell does Willa Mae Hardy? The strange new girl in town acts like she and Gem are old companions, and seems to know things about them they’ve never told anyone else.
When Gem is attacked by a stranger claiming to be the Goddess of Death, Willa Mae saves their life and finally offers some answers. She and Gem are reincarnated gods who’ve known and loved each other across lifetimes. But Gem – or at least who Gem used to be - hasn’t always been the most benevolent deity. They’ve made a lot of enemies in the pantheon—enemies who, like the Goddess of Death, will keep coming.
It’s a good thing they’ve still got Enzo. But as worlds collide and the past catches up with the present, Gem will discover that everyone has something to hide.
I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
~heartbreakingly human gods
~past lives biting you in the ass
~wanting to live doesn’t make you a villain
~come for the god of magic and you better not miss
~‘burn the world down for you’ polyamory
Suggested theme song: GODS ft NewJeans by League of Legends
No shade (ahem), but in hindsight, now that I’ve read Godly Heathens, Edgmon’s first duology – the Witch King books – feel like the literary equivalent of dipping a toe into the publishing waters to check the temperature. Was the world ready for their weirdness?
Oh? It was?
Well then – TIME TO UNLEASH THE REAL
GODS GOODS. Because Godly Heathens is a hands-off-the-wheel, no-holds-barred, without-a-parachute plunge into unmitigated and unapologetic feral queer weirdness – with teeth.
“There are no cis gods,” they scoff.
Gem is stunning; Gem is magnetically mysterious; Gem is a sex deity magnanimously bestowing their favours upon anyone brave enough to ask. But behind the carefully crafted facade, Gem is Not Okay; desperate to be loved, anxious, locked in bitter standoff with a mother who seems determined to see the worst in everything Gem does and is, swallowing down meds for depression, and terrified of inheriting their dad’s schizophrenia. That last one is a little too on the table, as Gem has been consumed by strange, intense, too-tangible dreams and visions for as long as they can remember. Dreams they have no intention of sharing with anyone – especially Enzo, the best friend they’re helplessly in love with, for all that he lives far off in New York and all their communiques must, by necessity, be digital.
For now. Because Gem is going to graduate and get the hell out of their tiny Southern town, and when they do, they’re heading straight for Enzo. (Though there’ll be nothing straight about it, hopefully!)
It’s a plan they treasure. One that shatters like glass in their hands when they discover that they’re a reincarnated god from another world; this life is just the latest of hundreds they’ve lived out on Earth. And the rest of their pantheon? They’re here too, and with a few exceptions, they want Gem annihilated.
And Gem might even deserve it.
maybe a happy ending was never possible for me. Maybe some people don’t deserve one, and maybe I’m one of them.
If that’s the case, I’m still gonna fight like hell to get as close as I can.
Godly Heathens is a mind-fuck to explain: the worldbuilding and set-up are easy to understand and absorb quickly – there’s nothing especially complicated about the gods Edgmon’s created, nor the world they originally came from, nor their conflict with Gem. Even Gem’s powers, while thrilling, aren’t hard to wrap your head around. There’s a Quest Object that needs to be found, a magic knife that’s the only thing that can kill a god for good – okay, sure! I’ve got it. It’s exciting, but not hard to follow. Even the writing is direct and unornamented – to be honest, it’s much plainer than I usually prefer my prose.
But the thing is, nothing about this book is simple at all. It just looks that way at first, briefly – like a child’s scribbled sketch, all easy lines and primary colours. But page by page Edgmon turns that sketch into something else; adding detail, more colour, shading, depth, background, foreground, layer after layer of paint that slowly but completely transforms the simplistic little picture we thought we were looking at.
And what you have at the end? Is a gods’-damned masterpiece that, to continue the metaphor, should be hanging in the freaking Louvre.
The bogeyman has come to call, and with him comes proof that I crawled willingly beneath the bed.
Take, for example, the idea of gods in human bodies. Edgmon could easily have just… left it at that, but instead Godly Heathens really digs into what that means, what the implications of it are, what questions arise when you have gods in human forms. What value, if any, do their human identities have against their godly memories and past incarnations? Are they a part of our world, now they’ve lived so many lives here, or do they still belong to their world of origin? How do their aspects and powers change over time, as the world changes, as what-they’re-gods-of changes? And Gem: do they really bear responsibility for the sins of their past self? Are they a different person now, or the same one? Is it fair, is it right, to punish them for things another version of them did? Is it on them to fix those things, or not – and if not, then who is it on?
“We are not just gods walking around steering human bodies. We are also humans housing the souls of gods.
Even the less-dived-into parts of the worldbuilding are fascinating, like the relationships between the different gods – Life and Death being sisters; Death and War being girlfriends – and the divisions Edgmon chose to make in creating the pantheon – for example, rather than having one god of nature, Life, Land, Water and Weather are all separate gods, and I wish I could ask Edgmon why, because I would love to hear the thought process that went into that!
the whole world could put their hands on you, and it wouldn’t make you any less mine–I’ve left you stained deeper than they could dream of
And all the ways that Edgmon fucks with the usual tropes, with The Way Things Always Go, is just *chef’s kiss* Nothing here is tidy, nothing here follows the expected patterns, absolutely fucking nothing here hews to convention and thank fuck for that, because my gods, I needed this book. I needed Gem. I needed a story that says ‘discovering you’re the Chosen One/a superhero/a literal honest-to-god god does not explain away, or fix, all the ways in which you’re Not Okay.’ And I wanted this book, this story; I wanted the sharp edges, and the monstrous love, the fucked-up MC who will fuck you up worse if you touch the people they love…but is still fragile and desperate to be loved, themselves, underneath the badassery.
“If they kill him, no one will be safe from what I do next.”
What I’m saying is, Godly Heathens has the vibes and aesthetic and wildly beating heart of someThing I’ve been hungry for, starving for, for a very long time; someThing I suspect there’s no English word for, but that Edgmon clearly knew we needed. I am grateful; I am ecstatic; I am both sated and deliriously ravenous for more, and not just because of that ending.
(Thank the gods we don’t have long to wait for the sequel!)
I’m gonna fix this. I’m gonna make this right. Because I deserve everything I want.
And even if I don’t, I don’t care.
What about the plot, you say? Don’t die. That’s – I think that sums it up okay. There are enemies coming at Gem and their allies from every direction – including their own pasts and human families – and the main, major goal is to survive, to defend, to fight back, to find what they need to do that (like the knife). That means finding each other, (re)discovering and mastering their powers, trying to keep their human lives from falling apart as they go to war against their fellow gods – you do not need to worry about their not being enough story, enough action, to more than balance out the under-the-surface complexity of emotions, introspection, self-discovery.
And of course, there’s the Mountain-moving, breathtakingly intense, delicious-and-wondrous love story that spans aeons and eternities, that poor Gem somehow has to wrestle into something humans can hold.
If human minds are not meant to hold the burden of our memories, how is my human heart expected to carry the weight of the eternal devotion with which I’ve loved these two?
Oh – did I not mention the polyamory??? Gem’s two love interests, and the relationship they start to build together, is everything I could ever have asked for, and I would really like to write a freaking THESIS on it, but I cannot because SPOILERS! Gods damn it.
“I am the god who has ruled alongside you since the dawn of another time. And I have known and loved you in your every flawed iteration. Every name you have gone by, every face you have worn, I have been at your side. My soul knows yours, and yours knows mine, and if I have to wait a little while for you to remember, that’s fine. I’m gonna keep saving your ass in the meantime.”
Look, just – come scream in my comments about your Feels when you’re done reading this book, okay? I’LL BE WAITING MOST EAGERLY.
(THE SCENE WITH THE SNAKE. You’ll know it when you get to it – and I defy you not to cry at the snake on the book’s cover afterwards. WHO PUT THAT THERE, AND HOW DARE THEY?)
On the one hand: I think kissing her might be life-affirming. On the other hand: everything else.
There’s no denying that Godly Heathens is a book that goes hard and pulls no punches – but it also manages to be hysterically funny, in very queer ways–
He’d disappear if he weren’t built like a tank. (Though, I notice homosexually, he is smaller than Willa Mae.)
very real live teens ways–
“Do you have clothes here I can sleep in?”
My first instinct is to say Clothes? Why would you need clothes? because I am terrible and horny–not related to each other, just equally true.
And some that just make you cackle–
Are you trying to get me to embrace my magic by reminding me young Republicans exist and I could hex them?”
Godly Heathens is a book with no easy answers; one that does not talk down to its YA audience, and will crack open the heart of any adult who dares to pick it up. It’s raw and vital and absolutely feral, slicing through so many layers of but we don’t talk about that; revelling in the kind of savage emotion we’re not supposed to feel, let alone acknowledge out loud; gripping you by the back of the head and forcing you to take a good hard look at how fucked-up and chaotic and messy reality is, even before gods get involved. It’s about love untamed and unleashed and unstoppable, about fairness versus justice, about how the nice pretty ideals we tend to hold up in Fantasy, particularly, aren’t so neat and easy to apply in the real world.
In that way, this is so much a story for those – teens and otherwise – who feel (who are) let down by the genre; those of us who stand on the outside looking in; those of us who’ve always felt more in common with the monsters than the heroes; those of us who are messes, damaged, not-nice.
This is a book for us.
For anyone worried you might be the villain in your own story.
Maybe you are.
I think you deserve a happy ending, anyway.
Godly Heathens is a book that injects itself straight into your veins and hits you like lightning, cracks your ribs open and rips your heart out – and do not expect to get it back. This is not a book you will forget, or that you get to walk away from whole; this is a book that will leave you with scars…but scars you’ll treasure.
And seriously – when you start crying about the snake on the cover, hit me up.
Godly Heathens incarnates next week – and missing it would be a sin. Preorder it, beg your library for it, get your local indie to order it in – I don’t care how, but you have to read this one.