Jacob Greene was a sweet boy raised by a loving, tight-knit family…of cultists. He always obeyed, and was so trusted by them that he was the one they sent out on their monthly supply run (food, medicine, pig fetuses, etc.).
Finding himself betrayed by them, he flees the family’s sequestered compound and enters the true unknown: college in New York City. It’s a very foreign place, the normal world and St. Mark’s University. But Jacob’s looking for a purpose in life, a way to understand people, and a future that breaks from his less-than-perfect past. However, when his estranged sister arrives in town to kick off the apocalypse, Jacob realizes that if he doesn’t gather allies and stop the family’s prophecy of destruction from coming true, nobody else will…
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The Younger Gods
I expected many things after I left my family: the loneliness of being separated from my roots, serious financial hardship, and drastically fewer blood sacrifices with dinner.
But I did not expect the discouraging reality of having to count on strangers.
Sitting in the main room of the St. Mark’s University library, I watched hundreds of my fellow students at work. They hunched over laptops, pored through stacks of books, and argued points of rhetoric, trying to assemble arguments for term papers. There was so much life all around me, so many people. It was invigorating, if a little claustrophobic.
And though I was among them, I was still apart, since unfortunately, none of these people were my assigned partners for the sociology project. I arrived thirty minutes early to claim a table, wore a distinctive orange jacket, and stood every minute to look around, ready to signal them across the crowded room.
And yet, they did not come. It was now more than forty minutes after the time I had set.
One woman joined three others who had been browsing Facebook on the university computers since I arrived, and then the group approached my table. One of the Facebook devotees looked down at the table, then said, “Can we sit here?”
“I’m very sorry. I’ve reserved this table for a group project. My group should be arriving presently.”
She shifted her weight, arms crossed. “Except you’ve been at that table for like an hour, and no one is here. We have work to do too.”
Oh, really? I locked my eyes on the young woman and leaned forward. “Work so pressing that you’ve spent your time diligently playing farming games on Facebook? Is that why you’re here at this university, to major in reciprocal guilt- and gift-driven computer games? Even if that were so, I have reserved the table, and I’m afraid you will have to look elsewhere. Good evening.”
“Who the fuck are you?” the woman asked.
“My name is Jacob Hicks.”
“That was a rhetorical question.” The woman scoffed, then looked to her friends. The newcomer shrugged, then pointed to a table across the room.
The group left, and over my shoulder, I heard someone utter, “Asshole.”
I sighed, and checked my watch again: 7:45. I’d confirmed for 7:00 PM, and had received no messages from any group members explaining their tardiness or suggesting alternative plans.
Without the group, I would have to complete the project by myself, in a way that appeared to be the work of a group. Anything but the highest marks would be unacceptable, as I was already shouldering a substantial debt in order to secure a degree and enter the nonmagical workforce, to put my old life behind me. Each additional semester of tuition would take years of effectively-garnished wages to pay off, which was far from acceptable given how I might need to move frequently to avoid my family.
Behind me, a group of students broke their blissful silence and started to talk.
“I hate it. My parents are making me fly home for Christmas, and I don’t even want to go, because I could stay here and go skate at Rockefeller Center with Julio and shop at Saks. All we have at home is crappy strip malls. And my crazy grandma will just spend the whole time drunk and making racist jokes.”
A male voice joined the rant. “Right? My parents are so lame. They say that I have to come home because they already bought the ticket. It’s the same passive-aggressive shit. ‘We’re paying for your school, so you have to do what we say.’ ”
And on they went. Listening to other students complain about their families was revelatory. It seemed that hurt feelings, oppressive expectations, and lies of omission were not limited to my own family. It was consoling, in its own small way. A tiny patch of common ground.
Rather than continuing to stew in my discontent and lash out at others (even if they deserved it), I gathered up my texts, returned them to my bag, put on my coat, and snatched up the overpriced tea I’d acquired from the ubiquitous Starbucks.
As soon as I stood, other students swept down on the table, taking seats like a murder of ravens pouncing on a stray crust. Would that they had more success in their studying that night than I.
Leaving the library, I was again assaulted by the cacophonous noises and panoply of smells that were New York. Queens comprised a far more subdued version of the city’s overwhelming stimuli, but within a moment, I saw airplanes arcing overhead, cars trundling by, the smell of rotted paper and garbage, and the fullness of hundreds of heavily-bundled bodies as students hurried about the campus. They were entirely apart from the life I’d known.
People here did not live in preparation for prophecies about the coming of the end, did not strike bargain after bargain with beings that lived at the center of the earth, did not challenge one another for primacy within the family. They had their own petty and beautiful lives, and they had to be protected so that humanity could be nourished.
My dormitory was only a five-minute walk from the library, one of the primary reasons I’d selected it on my Residence Life application.
Upon reaching the door to my room in the dormitory, I rattled my keys loudly to signal my return to my roommate, Carter. He seemed to ignore knocking, but the distinctive jingle of keys proved more telling. I heard no protest, no scrambling or shushing, so I was confident that I could open the door and step inside.
The dormitory room was, in total, larger than my last room at home, and I had to share it with only one person rather than my two brothers. But as I was learning, sharing a room with a stranger was a far sight from sharing with family.
Carter and I had elected to loft each of our beds, reducing overall space but giving us each more to ourselves, which was necessary both for his libido and for my sanity.
The divide in the room could not have been clearer. My walls and shelves were nearly empty. A small stack of books sat on my desk next to a miniature refrigerator and the half-dresser. I’d only left home with one bag, and the student loans I’d taken would not go very far if I planned for them to cover all of my expenses, even with my part-time work. As a result, my pocket money was nonexistent. Every time I spent money outside my meal plan, I’d have to make it up somewhere else.
By contrast, Carter’s portion of the room was covered in posters from films and sketched portraits of impossibly-proportioned women clad in outfits that would be considered risqué at a bacchanal. He had stacks and stacks of comics, films, and games. Furthermore, he had filled the communal closet with sporting equipment I’d never seen him use, heaping bags and boxes’ worth. And the one time I’d opened the closet to invite him to organize it to allow me some space, he’d shouted me down and slammed the closet closed.
For once, it seemed that Carter did not have company. He sat at the under-the-loft desk, his attention split between a computer screen and a television.
Carter’s family lived upstate, in Buffalo, and he had little sense of the value of money. Which was good in that he was generous without trying, but bad in that he saw everything as disposable. Everything had a price and it could be replaced. It seemed to have nothing to do with being Indian and everything to do with being rich enough to not have to care.
“Hey, Hicks,” he said, not looking away from his screen. I had assumed a pseudonym upon arriving in New York to conceal my movements from my family. I had made the logistics of creating an academic and personal record complicated, but I now had a completely new life as Jacob Hicks.
The television screen illuminated Carter’s golden-hued skin, light for a South Asian. In North Dakota, there had been nearly no people of color, so I found myself quite overwhelmed by the diversity in New York City, living among millions of people from all around the world. Several stern talking-tos later, I made a concerted effort to learn the basics of identifying different ethnic heritages so that I might not give offense through such mistakes as intimating that a Chinese woman was Japanese, when her grandparents had been killed by the Japanese during their occupation of Manchuria. The sting of her slap had faded shortly; the realization of the pain I’d caused her did not.
With sun-kissed skin and lean muscle, Carter was extremely popular with the women on our floor and beyond, while I, with a lanky frame and a complexion that approached that of chalk, was often asked if I was under the weather.
“Hello.” I gestured at his screen. “Is that another episode of your bathetic seemingly interchangeable formulaic crap?”
“Yeah. Are you still a freak?”
“So it would seem.”
That seemed to satisfy him. I unpacked my bag onto my desk and booted up my laptop.
We’d used computers at home, but I quickly discovered that technology changes far faster than Father had ever bothered keeping up with. Apparently, a 486 was no longer considered worthy of the task of engaging with the world at large.
Luckily, the university retained an array of staff to consult on technical matters. It had taken all of a Saturday afternoon with a tremendously patient young woman named Audra, but after that, I was able to use the laptop for all of the basic processes required as a student.
Seeing no email from any of my classmates explaining their absence, I drafted a polite but insistent message inquiring after each of them.
A few minutes later, Carter said, “Oh yeah. Some people called for you a while back, said they couldn’t make the meeting or something. They thought I was you at first, thought they were calling a cell.” He shook his head, dismissing the notion.
Well, that solved the mystery of the group’s truancy, if unsatisfactorily. They had taken the number for a personal cell and therefore expected to speak with me when calling the dormitory phone.
“I’m going to have some company over in a bit, if you don’t mind.” He would have company over even if I did mind, as I discovered one night when I needed to study for a midterm in sociology. It did not take long for me to excuse myself once the panting started.
There would likely be people in the common room, and I’d learned to read anywhere, anytime, no matter how many screaming siblings, spectral howls, or ritual chants filled the house.
“Of course. Will your libido be sated by eleven, perhaps? Tomorrow is Tuesday.” My eight fifteen AM class was on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which meant I was up at half-past six.
Carter grinned. “Sated? No. But I’ll probably have gotten sick of her by then.”
“How charming,” I said.
I packed up my laptop again, along with several course texts, and made for the common room.
Four of my floormates were playing cards at the table, and another was splayed out on a couch, watching television. I gave her ample space and settled at another couch, resuming my work. I’d transferred into a more advanced chemistry section once I discovered just how rudimentary their 101-level material truly was.
You can say many things about my parents’ choices and teaching methods, but our education was incomparable. Even as a freshman, I was taking advanced science courses in order to stay engaged. In fact, that knowledge had given me one of my very few advantages in making connections in the city.
Tessane, one of my floormates, nodded as I sat down. “You have time to help me with this anatomy quiz?” she asked, holding up a partially-colored page showing the cardiovascular system.
“Certainly,” I said, setting my own work aside.
Bodies. Bodies made sense. Biology was a system, complex but understandable. Everything working in concert. And it felt good to speak from confidence. Tessane was one of the only people in New York who had welcomed me into her world without question. We worked together in the library, one of the many ways that I had conspired to be able to afford this college tuition. Tessane was kind to me, and rendering assistance on anatomy was the least I could do to repay her. She was a first-generation college student, her family recent immigrants from the Philippines. And she was quite stunning, though I did my best to ignore that fact, as she’d given no indications of any interest, and I did not have so many friends I could afford offending one by making a fool of myself with an expression of romantic intent.
Five minutes into helping Tessane review pulmonary function and doing my best to ignore how close she was sitting, someone turned up the television.
“This is a breaking news update from KRTV3,” said a disembodied voice. “We interrupt your regular broadcast to bring you the breaking news of a murder in Central Park.”
I looked up from Tessane’s text to the television. A blandly handsome man sat at a news desk, immaculately dressed, his hair so firmly done it might as well have been the plastic that made up my sister’s Frankensteinian dolls, bodies sheared apart and glued back together to fit her vision of proper beauty.
The screen showed Central Park, lit by streetlamps. Police had erected a circular cordon around a tree, which was covered in shadow.
“A runner identified a body crucified on a tree, with a knotwork design carved above the victim’s head. The grass in a ten-foot circle around the tree appears to have been burned to ashes . . .”
I leaned forward, a wrenching familiarity clamping down on my gut.
Please, no. Not here.
The television switched back to the news anchor.
“Details are still emerging, but certain sources report that this crime may have occult motivations, and could be tied to a cult group.”
Not just any cult.
I couldn’t be sure without a closer look, one that the channel seemed unable to grant due to police procedure, but the carved symbol, the way the body hung, the patch of dead grass . . .
I had to know for sure. If they’d come here, now, it could only mean one thing:
My family had caught up with me.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
THE YOUNGER GODS features Jacob Greene, one of ‘the’ Greenes, a family of cultists who long to awaken the Younger Gods. He was a good boy, following orders, but when they betrayed him in an unspeakable way, even for the Greenes he decided to leave. He enrolled in college in New York, a loner who renounced his family and their beliefs, in order to learn about the world his family told him was only full of cattle. When his older sister comes to town to wake a Younger God and start the apocalypse, Jacob must band together with other practitioners to stop this new threat. THE YOUNGER GODS is the start of what seems to be a fabulous new series. Jacob drew me in, vulnerable and awkward, with a strong sense of who he is and what he must do when the threat becomes real. The world the author has created is complex with an air of reality, the action is quick and brutal, and the characters really grow on you. I hope we learn more about each of the characters in future books in this series. THE YOUNGER GODS will appeal to fans of fun urban fantasy.
**I received a copy of this story for an honest review When I started reading this book, I was excited to be reading a book in a genre I like but sounded different from the other stories I'd read. Unfortunately, I just couldn't get into the story. I had a problem with the plot the farther I read. It was a bit much for me. However, I can say the author did a great job with the actual writing itself. The main character, Jacob, is very well written. His tone and lack of any knowledge of our world make him genuinely unique.