Sweet Venom

Greek mythology is finally making its way from Percy Jackson to the teen market -- and Sweet Venom is a charming new adaptation of an old myth with new tricks. Popular culture leaves most people with the awareness of Medusa was a woman/creature with snakes for hair and a stony gaze that could turn anyone who looked into her eyes into, well, stone. In Tera Lynn Childs's "Medusa Girls" series, this isn't quite the whole story, as Medusa (and her two sisters) got a bad rap from a jealous god. (Isn't it always the way?) This isn't to say that the reputation was entirely a bad thing in the end, as it shielded her descendants from scrutiny. These descendants follow in her footsteps, turning the "family business" into guardianship (they are called "huntresses"), and making it their life's work to protect the general human populace from beasties that slip through a crack between the worlds, a crack which happens to be located in San Francisco.

Of course, Grace knows nothing about this. She's lived in the middle of nowhere USA with her family and she thinks the big adventure of her life will be their relocation to San Francisco so she can take advantage of a scholarship at a prestigious high school. That's before Grace sees a minotaur (though she appears to be the only person startled by it)... and *then* sees someone who could be her double show up to fight it.

This is how Grace meets her long-lost-twin, Gretchen.

Gretchen is a huntress and a damn good one. (In my mind, I pictured Faith from Buffy before she went totally nutso.) Saved from living on the streets by a mentor who trained her to fight the monsters that it seemed like only Gretchen could see, Gretchen isn't scared of the monsters now... she's mostly just pissed that between monster hunting and homework, she barely gets any sleep. What *does* scare her is the fact that her mentor has gone MIA and Gretchen has no idea what's become of her. Now this whole identical twin thing pops up and Gretchen doesn't do well with the personal/emotional stuff.

Grace and Gretchen have to come to terms with this newfound relationship and it really isn't easy for either of them. Grace has a loving family (and a very protective brother, Thane, who might notice when a girl identical to his adopted sister is walking around school) whereas Gretchen only really trusts her mentor and this soft version of herself could only be deadweight. Grace has to decide if she wants to help Gretchen in her fight against the monsters (if Gretchen even lets her)... and even if they can find a way to come to terms with each other, well... the surprises aren't over for this pair.

If you're looking for a story with dark twists and turns, you'll have to hunt elsewhere, because Sweet Venom is quite sweet and light indeed, striking a charming note in the often quite-dark-indeed paranormal teen genre. I'll admit that I scooped up Sweet Venom with only the awareness that this was a Medusa story and so I didn't read much beyond that... and maybe that it takes place in San Francisco. I was pleasantly surprised by the tone, which seems just as eager to tackle Grace's crush on her brother's friend Milo as the issue of various mythological demons cropping up in the Castro. Narration jumps between Grace and Gretchen in the beginning, allowing you to see both of their perspectives, which gives nice perspective -- and eventually allows Childs to do a fun twist which caught me slightly by surprise (in a good way!) and I'm pretending that it hasn't been spoiled for you with other reviews. Grace is obviously the "straight man" character and so provides the reader with the chance to be oriented in to this world while Gretchen provides attitude and knowledge. Later, you meet another important character who didn't seem to get the same careful depth as Grace and Gretchen, but the series is young, there will hopefully be time for that. The important note is that here, they are all distinct characters and don't immediately mesh together, and their differences will likely fuel many bits of dialogue in the books to come. I only hope Childs continues to let each character to continue to develop in an independent fashion as they grow, rather than falling prey to any easy shortcuts like allowing stereotypes to take the place of character development, which would keep them sounding different but deny them any depth. Given the care that Childs has shown to the characters thus far, though, I don't think she's in any danger of that.

I always appreciate when authors who use mythology are inclined to let the stories stand without wild adjustments -- or if there are adjustments, for them to happen in relation to the more modern setting rather than repeat "no, the history books got it all wrong!" over and over. Not that Childs doesn't make any adjustments... she tweaks enough to accommodate for her additions to the storyline, but there's no feeling of deep, egregious wrong or outrageous liberties being taken with the myths as most folks know them. I frequently found myself thinking that this book reminded me of Percy Jackson... only it wasn't trying so hard to be funny and it was a bit more grown-up (only slightly, as we're aiming for teens instead of tweens, but I imagine this novel would be totally acceptable for tweens, too). There's a definite girl-bent that will make this a hard sell for male readers, though it's refreshing to have a story where the romance is on the lighter side as opposed to being the sole focus with some other storyline details tossed in. Some interesting young men that factor in as romantic interests for the girls and I think we can bet that they're all more than they seem at first glance. (Indeed, they somewhat fade in to the background before the ending of the book, so I hope they come back with beefier storylines or some ability to contribute to the larger goals in the book.) It looks as though real romance or male character development will happen as the series unfolds, for Childs isn't rushing things there and I suppose I prefer it this way. Better to take it slow than create false drama to liven things up. All in all, Sweet Venom is a fun romp and a quick read -- a delightful beginning-of-fall novel as you look to curl up on the couch with something light and entertaining as the back-to-school crush might load one's plate down with heavier tomes. I'm certainly looking forward to the next in this series, as I think these Medusa girls have some very amusing storylines ahead of them.

Full disclosure: I don't work on this book, but it does factor in to my professional life. My review is my own personal opinion, but weight this knowledge as you see fit.

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