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Dea Ex Machina: The Goddess of Sumer by Jenna Smith

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The premise is von Daniken-esque, ridiculous; star-gods bootstrapping hapless Sumerian humans until one of the gods is trapped in an ancient statue. The characters are expectable, even stereotypical. The bad guy is, literally, Satan (or Sadin).

And I enjoyed every word of The Goddess of Sumer, from the dream-sequence beginning to the happy-ever-after ending. Even while my inner voice kept saying you know what happens next, I had to keep reading. And that’s the power of good story-telling, you care what happens to the characters. You don’t have to believe&#8212it is fiction, after all. A good tale-spinner makes you want to know how it all turns out.

Jenna Smith’s tale opens on a nightmare. Jessica is being drawn to a glowing green female figure, even as she is chased by a growling beast. In her dream, she trips and hurts her ankle; when she wakes, her ankle is swollen. That’s our clue that her dream is something more than REM sleep.

When Jessica learns that her beloved uncle Derek has been hospitalized, she rushes home to be with him, despite the presence of an old flame, Randy, on her uncle’s ranch. Her uncle manages to tell her that there is an important box in the attic, and Jessica finds it contains a glowing green head from a woman’s statue.

Her uncle’s young friend Lance explains that the head is from a statue in which Sadin entrapped a Sumerian goddess, called Tiamat by some people, Horus by others. Lance has been chosen to be the next Guardian of the head, but Jessica’s uncle Derek has been Guardian for decades. Sadin’s powers, shattered by the goddess even as he trapped her in the stone, have had thousands of years to recover, Lance tells her. What’s more, the evil-doers have located the latest Guardian, poisoning Derek in their attempt to reach the goddess-head.

The statue heals Jessica’s injuries, and possessing it allows her to heal her uncle, and later, Lance. It seems the head also grants something like immortality, because the group meets with a “ancient Daoist,” Zhang Sen-Feng. Zhang is still going strong after spending hundreds of years as a Guardian. He also has the power to “cloud men’s minds,” which helps the group steal the body of the statue and escape the evil one’s henchmen.

Yes, it sounds hokey. And yes, every time the story knits itself into a corner, a new power of the goddess or her Guardians is revealed. Somehow, they squeak through, chasing across the planet to finish at a temple of Horus where the body and head of the statue can be joined, and the goddess freed at last.

It’s still a great story, thrillingly told, with enough deftness of phrase and turn of events to draw the reader along. I enjoyed every page, and was almost sorry to come to the end. Fortunately, Smith promises a sequel (The Emerald Tablet) and a new tale (The Jewel of Delphi). If they are as enticing as this novel, hokey or not, they’ll all be worth reading.

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