Title: Stamp of Fate
Author: Nessa L. Warin
Cover art: Shobana Appavu
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy link: Buy Link Stamp of Fate
Length: Novel/82,413 words/244 PDF pages
Genre: Fantasy/Mystery/M/M Romance
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
A guest review by LadyM
Review summary: For a book about the murder in the Greek pantheon, Stamp of Fate is surprisingly bland.
Blurb: A dead body is never a welcome sight, but it’s especially troublesome when Tadd Leventis and Declan Anagnos return home to find one in their foyer. Most people know the dead woman as a curator at the local museum, but Tadd and Declan recognize her as someone from their distant past—Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare. To Tadd and Declan, it’s more than a murder. It’s a threat to the mortal lives they’ve worked so hard to build—and a wakeup call that their immortal lives are in danger too.
At Zeus’s request, they once again don the mantles of Ares and Hermes, but when they start investigating their fellow Olympians, Tadd and Declan discover things are far more complicated than they seem. As the body count rises, tracking the killer becomes more dangerous, and the investigation starts to strain their relationship. Can they patch things up in time to catch the killer, or will the killer catch them first?
You already know that I am a mystery fan, but ancient Greece, its literature and mythology also have a special place in my heart. When I read the blurb for this book, my inner geek stood up and applauded. Murder mystery? Check. Greek gods? Check. In a modern world? Check. Oh, the possibilities! Naturally, I was very excited to review it. The book, however, wasn’t what I was hoping for.
On the surface, there isn’t anything overly wrong with the book. The author has a clean writing style, which is something I already knew from her short stories. She uses Greek myths in both storytelling (for example, different versions of myth of Aphrodite’s infidelity with Ares) and characterization that shows a decent amount of research, but also the ability to adapt the myths to her needs. The present-tense narration isn’t a favorite of mine – mine being the operative word, because the execution was actually quite good. (A few years back, Mr. Philip Pullman explained in an article why he dislikes the present-tense narration. If you are interested, you can follow the link and read it, because I mostly agree with him.) It certainly helped in creating the sense of urgency.
We are immediately pulled into the story as Tadd and Declan – Ares and Hermes respectively – arrive home only to find the body of the goddess Athena in their lobby. They are then recruited by Zeus to investigate the murder. But, as murders continue, their investigation becomes a race against time.
If you know anything about Greek deities, you know how human-like they are: they are petty, jealous, vindictive, often downright bitchy. That is certainly the case with Warin’s gods and goddesses – they are one big, dysfunctional family. At the beginning, I liked that as well as the fact that their mortal incarnations were true to their divine natures: Hermes is, thus, head of a communication company, Eros manages a phone sex line, Aphrodite – a matchmaking service, etc. The problem is that this is the extension of their characterization. Their personalities don’t differ much outside their divine traits. Their mutual relations are briefly explained through mythological references, which would be fine if all the readers possessed this kind of knowledge, but I’m afraid that this is not the case. There is little to no explanation how their mortal existence changed them or their lives. There is very little change in their interactions throughout the novel and, after a while, their mutual squabbling becomes tedious.
The problem is most apparent in the case of our lovers/detectives – Tadd and Declan. Their history is recounted to us: how they were cursed, their initial reactions, how they fell in love. But, beside some pretty hot sex scenes, their relationship is limited to the investigation and how it is affected by it. I felt that the present-tense, linear narration prevented the story from spreading its wings here. It would be wonderful if we were allowed to see at least a portion of what these two withstood over time. I have to say though that the divine traits were best employed here: the hot temper and overall combativeness of Ares and the more diplomatic, level-headed approach of Hermes worked well within the limits of the investigation to showcase their differences.
While I was reading the novel, one question was constantly on my mind: Why are gods living as mortals? What prompted them to leave Olympus behind? Eventually, we were given the explanation at the end of the novel, but I felt it was a perfect case of “too little, too late”. I found it unsatisfactory because the novel told us that this was relatively recent development (Tadd and Declan pretending they were their grandfathers), but the reasons that were given to us certainly existed for much longer. Additionally, the way the story was put together pointed to the only satisfactory bad guy, which diminished the suspense achieved through the present-tense narration.
In the end, it was really hard for me to rate this story. For all its flaws, it was a decently written, ambitious book and the effort put into its creation was apparent. Perhaps the mentioned flaws will not bother you. It is also hard to miss the author’s potential. So, three stars… and recommendation to try and find the time to judge for yourself.