by Abbie Evans
The Goddess works in mysterious ways, and Isabella Varselak intends to find out exactly what those ways are.
As the commander of the 7th Unit of the Solistopian City Watch, Isabella Varselak has dealt with many a mystery. Murderers, burglars, con artists, and troublesome demons have given her a multitude of crimes to solve over the years.
But injustice in the way the world works is all around her. Innocent people suffer, guilty people triumph. When this is questioned, the only answer she receives is that the Goddess works in mysterious ways.
Determined to get to the bottom of what these ways are and solve the ultimate mystery, she sets off on a journey to find answers — but she’ll have to go through hell to get them.
Mysterious Ways is a fantasy novel set in a matriarchal world. Women are in power, they worship a Goddess, and same sex relationships are common and socially acceptable.
SPFBO8 – Our Reviews
SPFBO Score: 7 out of possible 10.
SPFBO Score: 3 out of possible 10.
This book is funny, well-written, and has some interesting takes on religion and gender roles. It may entrance you if its particular brand of sassy irreverence hits you just right. For me, that was not quite the case. I appreciated much of the humor, and the prose is a definite selling point, but the larger world and story didn’t quite hit the sweet spot for me. It’s a snarky spin on heaven and hell, angels and devils, and of course humans in between. The world-building feels thin, like a mashup of real world and sort-of-but-not-quite Christian otherworld that relies on humor and a light touch to carry the day. The religious themes—the idea that the gods work in mysterious ways—critique the role of religion in society, but not in what felt like a particularly unique way. Similarly, the gender role flip was an interesting concept, but it never quite got beyond concept for me.
If you like irreverent, snarky fantasy with angels, devils, and a bit of romance, this book may well charm the socks right off you, and it’s filled with excellent and often hilarious prose. And I want to add that, while the book is very funny, it has more serious themes and moments as well, which were well done.
SPFBO Score: (6.5/10)
Abbie Evans turns tradition on its head in Book One of the Viatanesian Mysteries, Mysterious Ways. I am almost always a sucker for subversive political commentary and thematic undertones; Ways is chock full of them. From traditionally accepted gender roles to police brutality and social injustice, Evans is fearless in reimagining and reconstructing current-day concerns and I applaud her for it. She has created a world where women rule, same-sex relationships are the norm, magic is religion, angels swear, demons cower, gods are flawed and corruptible.
“The Goddess gave a half-smile, self-mocking. “Oh, I tried to, at first. I had all these grand visions of how I wanted my world to be. I wanted everything to go exactly as planned, all the players in it acting accordingly. But I soon realized this could never happen. You were too independent, you had your own ideas, and I could never constrain that. I had to let you make your own choices.””
Mysterious Ways tells the story of Isabella Varselak, a city watch commander in Solistopia who realizes she can no longer connect with the Goddess and starts to question everything she’s always understood about divinity and justice. No longer satisfied with accepting that the Goddess works in mysterious ways, and determined to speak directly with the Goddess herself, Isabella pushes back against authority, leadership, and common “truths” on a mission to right the wrongs done in the name of the Goddess.
“You don’t know what men with power will do to us. You have no idea. You can’t even conceive of the things they will do. If you continue down this path, it will end in the destruction of our way of life.”
So much of this book was exhilarating and refreshing and I should be able to say I loved it. Thematically, it is right up my alley. I wholeheartedly agree with the messages Evans is trying to convey. Gender equality? Yes! Same-sex relationship normalization and acceptance? Yes yes! Accountability in policing? Of course! Questioning religion? Here for it! (There are many other examples, but I’ll stop there.) Yet, for some reason, Mysterious Ways just wore me out and made me sad.
While I laughed at, and commiserated with, the plight of Orgezian women and their pocketless clothing, “Yes, well, the Orgezians, they’re an odd people. They also think pocketless attire is appropriate for women. You’re not seriously suggesting this, are you?” Moments of levity weren’t enough to lift me out of the blah. Lingering malaise is not a feeling I expect to encounter when I finish a fantasy work. The characters in Ways are very well developed and mostly relatable. The world-building and power structures are clearly and effectively constructed through narrative development. The plot moves along quickly and holds a reader’s attention. So what was the hang-up for me? At times, the thematic elements were too heavy-handed, too obvious, too too. Perhaps Evans included too many modern social concerns. Perhaps reading them all in one book was too much for my heart to handle. Perhaps it was overwhelming to read a fantasy which exposed how far humanity still needs to go. I dunno.
Mysterious Ways is a good book. A well-written book. But reader be warned, in spite of the angels and demons, magic and enchantments, it is heavy.