Bad Gods by Gaie Sebold
Solaris, pb, £7.37
Reviewed by Robin C.M. Duncan
Originally published in 2011 (Solaris) as Babylon Steel, Gaie Sebold’s debut novel and first instalment of this (presently) two-book series gets an eBook makeover in the form of Bad Gods, due for publication January 2022 from Rebellion/Penguin Audio.
This is my first Gaie Sebold book: I was drawn by the blurb and vibrant cover art by Stephen Player (of Discworld fame). Both promised me fun and frolics of a fantasy nature, and I was not disappointed. Sebold’s world is richly imagined, every bit as colourfully evoked by her words as the volume is by its cover. Like all the best fantasy worlds, the premise of this one is elegantly simple: as many worlds, races/species as you like, and the ability to move between those worlds is largely unrestricted. Go! And the author does, crafting a setting and cast of characters that is are eclectic as they are cohesive, diverse as they are vibrant, as gorgeous as they are grimy.
Through the fabric of her world, Sebold weaves several story threads, all of them entangling our redoubtable hero, Babylon Steel. Fittingly, given the abundance of worlds within the setting, there also are two skeins of narrative – present and past – running through the novel, one pushing Babylon forward, the other dragging her back. These strands are duty-bound to collide, and collide they do, to good effect.
The story is fast, fun and feisty. I should mention that Babylon runs a brothel, so look away at certain parts if your sensibilities run to the delicate. I think the cover art does a good job of foreshadowing that particular ‘sin’, so no one should be offended unawares, I hope.
Babylon Steel is a fine character and well deserves to feature in a second novel in the series, Dangerous Gifts (2013, Solaris), which I will be seeking out for my TBR pile. Regrets over reading Bad Gods? None at all, but quibbles, I did have a few. I thought there was a hole or two in the plot, but I was content not to pick at those; I was enjoying myself too much. Also, at least one character came and went with me being unsure who they were, what they were doing, and why (perhaps that’s on me), and there were passages during which I felt disconnected from the stakes. But, in the end, I was having too much fun for these things to derail my enjoyment of a fine story and, if you don’t mind your fantasy on the bawdy side of playful, I think there’s a good chance you would too.