Review | The Gifts of Pandora – Matt Larkin

About the Book

The winding road of fate unfolds …

In the last days of the Silver Age, the tyrant god Zeus takes whatever and whomever he wants with impunity. He has already torn Pandora from one home and now he threatens to destroy another. When he turns his wrath upon Atlantis, Pandora flees with the Titan Prometheus.

Despite her bitterness, Pandora finds a friendship she never imagined possible. But Zeus is not done with Prometheus, and what Pandora will face next will make all she has endured pale in comparison.

But Pandora has considerable gifts of her own, not least her cunning mind. When Zeus binds Prometheus, Pandora swears to turn all those gifts toward bringing Zeus down and saving her one true companion.

Scheduled publication: June 3, 2021
Check out the author’s kickstarter here.

I edited this book, and I feel like I’ve been waiting a small eternity to be able to tell you about it. 

Matt Larkin is the kind of fantasy author I really love. He takes mythology and lore, stories and peoples and gods you might have heard of and twists them, and makes them uniquely his. His retellings are some of the best I’ve ever read, and the amount of research he puts into each one of his books is staggering. It also shows through each and every carefully written page. He isn’t just telling stories, he’s transporting his readers. He’s giving you a new way to look at history, and the world itself. 

I really love mythology and retellings of stories we all know of and have heard about. Who hasn’t heard of Pandora’s box? It’s a story I remember hearing way, way back in my childhood. I always was pretty captivated by the idea of Pandora and her box, but it never really went beyond that.

The Gifts of Pandora took that story of Pandora’s box I’ve heard since I was a child, and tells it in a way that had me consistently sitting back saying, “WOW, I never thought of it like this.” In this world, gods and mortals intermix and mingle fairly regularly. The divine and the mundane bump up against each other in a way that somehow makes makes the first seem more mundane and the second more divine. 

Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of this book was how Larkin twisted the idea of the gods. Zeus was a man I viscerally hated from the second I read about him. Rather than deified, he’s presented as a powerful man with temper issues and a penchant for stealing and raping women. He’s a pig, and Larkin doesn’t shy away from that at all. To stay in this man’s good graces, some people have to do things they may not be comfortable with, and the morality toyed with in that relationship is both cleverly dealt with, and a string that binds a good chunk of the novel itself. More on this in a bit. 

And through this humanization of the gods and their offspring, you see the world in a different light. Not everything for those of Olympian (or Titan) stock is wonderful and easy. Prometheus’s notorious punishment is led up to, and then begins in this book. His soft spot for humanity, and the payment for said soft spot is all the more acute and poignant because Larkin shows just how Prometheus got to that point, and while physical pain is involved, it’s the emotional turmoil that struck me and (literally) brought tears to my eyes. His sacrifice isn’t just in measures of pain, but also love, family, kinship, and life.

Pandora was a character I was extremely interested in from the novella I edited that precedes this novel. She appeared in that book in fits and starts, and I told him I was really excited to learn more about this character. He told me he’s writing a series with her, and I just about jumped for joy. 

Pandora is a bit of a mystery, even to herself, I’d say and that’s part of what makes her so compelling. She’s had a bit of a hard-luck life, and through her own strength and ingenuity, she’s managed to not only survive but become a powerful person in her own right, and in her own circle. Someone everyone wants to have around. She is extremely smart and beautiful, and she knows how to use both instruments to her full advantage. Her personal evolution throughout this story was absolutely stunning. She was a character I sympathized with from her very first appearance, but somehow as the book goes on, she becomes even more human, and more relatable, and that makes her story even more tragic. 

Love and loss, family, and what all those mean, are dealt with through numerous lenses here. Not just Pandora and Prometheus, but through the offspring of the gods who also make appearances in the book. Timeline here is not linear. The book works on a few timelines, and I know the author was nervous about how that would play out, but it was absolutely one of the core strengths of the book, making the “ah ha!” moments all the more powerful once the reader sees how they weave together. This also created some emotional gut-punches that literally blew the air out of my lungs and had me wiping away tears. The power of story transcends time, and Larkin seems to show that in his entire body of work, but especially in The Gifts of Pandora, where time seems to be almost as much a character as the people themselves. 

I mentioned morality, and I want to touch on that a bit because I think this was also a huge strength of the book, though to avoid spoilers, I probably won’t say as much as I really want to. Suffice it to say, each character in this novel is forced into situations that are so uncomfortable for them, I felt them in my bones. Sacrifices take many different shapes and forms, and you see a myriad of them here. Some people make good choices for good reasons. Some people try to do the right thing, and it ends up going horribly wrong. Addiction becomes an issue in this book, as well as a sort of drug trade. Prometheus and his own morality is a bit of an issue. However, the one that really stuck to my ribs was the story of a woman who works as Zeus’s sort of strong right arm, his “witch”. Her story, once I saw how it connected to everyone else, is something I still can’t stop thinking about. 

And truthfully, it’s these moral conundrums that really appeal to me when I read and edit. I like it when characters are forced into uncomfortable situations, or when people try to do things they think might be beneficial but it ends up going wrong. Problems arise, and characters have to deal with that. Life is messy and so are people, and this sort of thing really makes books and the characters in them feel so realistic. Where Larkin takes it one step further is not just showing the morality and the domino effect of actions, but laying in this added emotional sucker-punch with the relationships he’s got developed, and forming. By the time you realize what’s happening, you’re also realizing just how central to each character’s soul this struggle really has been, and these vast implications he’s been subtly laying out throughout the book hit you all at once and you’re just left reeling. 

So, I’ve said a lot here, but what do you really need to know? 

This book was probably one of my favorite books I’ve read so far this year. It was a masterful work in every respect. Lyrical prose, a world that was so vividly wrought I felt like I was there, dynamic characters that blazed with realism and a complex, unpredictable plot that surprised me, and brought me to tears, The Gifts of Pandora is truly something special. I urge you all to read it. 

5/5 stars