Review: Sci-Fi Novel "The Prey of Gods" Is a Mind-Bending Vision of Hallucinogenics, AI, and Zulu Gods
Image credit: Harper Voyager
A professor of mine once said that the best stories teach you things—how sand dunes change the ecology of a planet (Dune), how to catch a fish (Old Man and the Sea), or how to create napalm from kitty litter (Fight Club). In the case of Prey of Gods, half the fun of reading comes from learning about society in a futuristic version of South Africa, which is so full of depth and interesting details (the mixture of Xhosa and Zulu cultures with modern tech, the widespread use of robots as servants and workers, and the politics of dik-dik control, to name a few) that it makes you nod your head and say "Yeah, that's how it would be." It's great worldbuilding, and the story takes full advantage of it.
We get of this panoramic view of South Africa from about a half-dozen characters, ranging from a cross-dressing politician to a small girl who's being groomed as a goddess by an ancient being who takes the form of an old man. Mixed into this, as the book's back cover explains, is a hallucinogenic drug, an AI uprising, a bio-engineered virus spread by a vengeful demigod looking to plunge the world into chaos, and a pop diva who's trying to overcome her crippling MS. And then there's Muzi, a young boy who's just made the passage into manhood and realized that being a 'man' is more complicated than he thought it would be.
The Prey of Gods, at some points, feels almost too ambitious, and with each chapter switching between POVs, I found myself speed-reading through some chapters to get back to the characters I cared about. Sydney, the chaos-dealing demigoddess in disguise suffering from an American Gods-like situation, is a bit gratuitous with the torture and cruelty, and I found myself thinking that Hannibal Lecter could give her a few pointers on subtlety. That being said, the book moves aggressively fast, and if you don't take your time when reading you will miss how subtly Drayden weaves together all these disparate strands.
All in all, the worldbuilding is fantastic, the imagery is incredibly vivid (the first chapter gives you a taste of what's to come), the POVs are deftly managed, and the plot, though expansive, comes together in a very satisfying way. Prey of Gods is what new sci-fi should be: boldly original, well-written, and mind-bending.
Prey of Gods will be available from Harper Voyager on June 13th. You can pre-order the book here, and check out Nicky Drayden's website here!