Rituals is the first of  four volumes in a modern odyssey by Roz Kaveney. Along with Neil Gaiman and Mary Gentle, Kaveney was one of the core members of the Midnight Rose Collective, a group of science fiction and fantasy writers based in the United Kingdom. Her background as a cultural commentator and poet manifests on the page as we are introduced to bits of mythology and history in unexpected ways.

Kaveney takes us to the year 1985. Pestered by wind, rain and car alarms, second-year Oxford students Emma and Caroline make their way to a gala. For Caroline, a girl who exudes social charm, the festivities provide ample opportunity to mingle. For Emma, “the party was as horrid as [she] had feared.” But it isn’t just the unimpressive guests that leave Emma wishing she could be elsewhere. A dream-like scenario unfolds where supernatural forces invade the real world, and Emma witnesses Caroline’s instant death at the jaws of an ogre: “Seizing Caroline by the high cotton of her red dress, it pulled her up to its maw and bit her head off, with a crunch like a breadstick.” Did that just happen? It did. And so does the sudden appearance of a small, javelin and sword-bearing woman who slays the ogre.

The party scene resumes as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened, except Caroline doesn’t exist. Back in the safety of her room, Emma begins to accept her roommate’s death when she discovers that there are such things as ghosts. Caroline’s specter comes back with limited information about an employer that has chosen them—so begins the work of Emma and her immaterial lover.

So who is the mysterious woman who came to the rescue? We find out that she is Mara the Huntress, and she has been on a mission for thousands of years to destroy those who achieve godhood by way of mass murder in the Rituals of Blood. Emma and Caroline are about to play a role in this mission as the Rituals plague the modern world.

Set against the familiar backdrop of good vs. evil, Rituals employs a cast of characters that is clever, comical, sarcastic, and everything in between. We journey with a memorable duo—the mature, sophisticated Emma coupled with the ever-fashionable and quick-witted Caroline. We go back in time with Mara whose wisdom and strength allow her to bear the injustices wielded upon the earth for millennia. Along the way, we meet interesting (and humorous) personalities such as Elodie, the teenage vampire princess whose ring tone is the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies. Royal duty calls but, as Roz Kaveney quotes Cyndi Lauper, “Girls just want to have fun.” From the young adolescent struggling to take ownership of her identity to the seasoned warrior, Kaveney writes of women who celebrate each other’s strengths.       –  Joanne Mallari

Also available by Roz Kaveney: Superheroes! Capes and Crusaders in Comics and Films; From Aliens to the Matrix Reading Science Fiction Film; Dialectic of the Flesh (Body Language); Reading the Vampire Slayer: the Complete Unofficial Guide to ‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel’; Tales from the Forbidden Planet; More Tales from the Forbidden Planet; Teen Dreams: Reading Teen Film and Television from ‘Heathers’ to ‘Veronica Mars’; What if What’s Imagined Were All True?;

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