“The gods of the old religion become the demons of the new religion.” — Margaret Murray
“Gods can turn into evil demons when new gods oust them.” — Sigmund Freud
The moment I read those epigraphs in Jon Skovron’s Misfit, I knew I was in for a treat.
Read Bookshelves of Doom on 'The Shattering.'
Jael Thompson and her ex-priest father move a lot. She’s lived in more crappy apartments than she has toes, and it feels like she’s attended just as many Catholic schools. Just as she starts to settle in and get comfortable, they’re forced to pull up stakes again and head to a new life in another town, state, or sometimes, even country. She knows it’s necessary, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
On her 16th birthday, Jael’s life changes forever.
I know, I know. These days, what contemporary paranormal doesn’t start like that? Bear with me.
See, Jael’s known from a very young age that she’s different. She understands why she has to keep that difference under wraps, and she understand why they have to keep moving. After all, there aren’t that many—if any—other girls out there who are half demon. Unfortunately for Jael, there is no upside:
“Do I at least have, you know . . . special powers?” she asked.
“No,” he snapped. “No powers, no horns, so nothing. You’re just like any other girl, but your mother was a demon. That’s it. No more questions. Is that clear?”
Rather than enduring a difficult childhood and then discovering that her seeming oddities are due to a Special and Powerful heritage—like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Meridian Sozu or any of the other children of witches/gods/angels/vampires/etc.—Jael’s experience is exactly the opposite. She’s grown up knowing that there’s something in her that she has to keep hidden, because it’s shameful and dangerous.
However—and this is where those epigraphs factor in—Jael’s mother wasn’t just a demon. She was Lilith and Astarte, Aphrodite, Venus, Isis and Kali. Misfit isn’t a stand out because it simply inverts a familiar formula. It’s a stand out because it explores Big Ideas about religion and belief, good and evil, science and magic, family and friendship, trust and sacrifice. Those ideas are explored in depth, but without ever making the book more about the ideas than the characters, getting didactic, or slowing the action, pacing or plot.
And even as it deals with all of those Heavy Mindbenders, Misfit is a love story, too. Two love stories, in fact. Jael’s present-day story—in which, alongside everything else, she gets close to a skater boy/science buff—alternates with one that shows the arc of her parents’ doomed romance. Like the Big Ideas, the romances never overshadow the rest of the story—they’re a part of it, but not the focus.
Rather than reminding me of any of the paranormals I’ve read over the last few years—and there have been many—I was reminded of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, in terms of depth, scope and epic vision. If, you know, American Gods starred a teenaged girl.
Jon Skovron’s first book, Struts and Frets, looks completely different, but that didn’t stop me from moving it right to the top of my TBR pile immediately after finishing this one. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.