Theo Ward is a professor at the Banneker College of Magic in Washington, D.C. While Theo has the ability to ground magic, his powers are nothing big and flashy — certainly not like making fireballs like his officemate can do. Ever since Theo’s mother’s died, he hasn’t quite been himself. Her illness and ultimate passing took a lot out of him and he is definitely not over the loss. When a messenger brings Theo a strange book with directions to the underworld (via the Metro system no less), Theo thinks it may be a chance to reconnect with his mother and possibly even save her. So fearless for his own safety, Theo forges ahead.
Lysandros is the child of Hades and Persephone and has power over life and death. He spends most of his time in the underworld, finding himself mostly overwhelmed when faced with a mass of humans. When Lysandros finds Theo attempting to enter the underworld, he is struck by the man, particularly his calm in the face of danger. While Theo can’t be allowed to stay, Lysandros definitely finds the man appealing, and when their paths continue to cross, the two begin a relationship. Theo can’t quite believe that all the stories he learned about the gods and goddess are actually real, but he handles it all with surprising calm.
The men fall for one another quickly and once they move past some small conflict, the relationship is mostly smooth sailing. But the gods seem to be interfering in the human world in dangerous ways and Theo and Lysander can’t help but get involved. Between a missing girl who also happens to Zeus’ lover, and a storm that grows potentially deadly, the men can’t just sit aside and watch. But while Lysandros may be immortal, Theo is certainly not, and the men must risk danger to save humanity from some vengeful gods.
Prince of Death is the first book in Burns and Fawkes’ new Lords of the Underworld series and I found this one a lot of fun. There is a playful tone to the story that brings some nice lightness to this urban fantasy. The idea of gods living among us isn’t necessarily new, but the way the authors give them a sense of humanity, as if they are everyday people, makes this one really entertaining. I enjoyed seeing these guys sit down to breakfast, or have casual sibling squabbles, while at the same time they are immortal and all powerful. Readers who are familiar with mythology are likely to find this one even more engaging, as the gods play a large role here and knowing who is who and the mythology surrounding them will make things easier to follow. That said, I still found this one pretty accessible, even coming in with virtually no background in mythology. At times I found it a bit hard to keep track of everyone (though there is a glossary at the end that I didn’t notice until I finished), but if you don’t get too bogged down worrying about exactly who is who, I think you can come into this pretty cold and still find it quite enjoyable.
While the mythology is very well done with great little details (like entering the underworld via the D.C. Metro), I think the magical end of the world building could have used more attention. We know that Theo has magic and works at a school of magic, and we also learn that other human universities have magical studies, so presumably regular folks are aware of magic. But other than that, we learn virtually nothing about it. We don’t see anyone but Theo perform magic and there is basically no world building other than giving Theo powers. So I feel like this area needed a lot more development as the magic kind of felt just dropped into the story to give Theo some useful abilities.
Aside from the way mythology is built into the world, the most charming part of this story for me is Theo and Lysandros themselves. While I do think these guys fall pretty hard and fast for one another, I couldn’t help but really like them together. Both of these men feel a little out of place in their worlds and both so clearly need some happiness, so it is rewarding to see them find each other. Despite Lysandros being a god, there is a balance to their relationship that I really appreciated. Theo has surprising strength beyond just his magical abilities that make him a great match for Lysandros and I really enjoyed them together.
My biggest issue here is that there is a lot going on and I felt that things needed some tightening and focus as at times the plot felt a bit all over the place. There are so many little plot threads running around, and while they mostly resolve, it made the book feel a bit meandering to me. We have a missing girl, an unexplained storm, feuds between the gods, Theo’s competition for a job, and Theo mourning his mother, just to name a few issues that crop up. To a degree these things do tie together at the end, but not as tightly as I would have wanted and not with as much development as I think they all needed. For example, we are told how Theo is really in a funk after his mother’s passing and he heads to the underworld to try to save her. But yet after meeting Lysandros, this idea is basically dropped. We never really get to understand much about Theo’s relationship with his mother or get into his head to really feel how affected he is by her death. So what could be a really powerful element just felt a bit weak and unresolved to me. Early on the book also sets up this mystery about what happened to a missing girl who is dating Zeus and it seems like investigating is going to be a major plot thread, but we casually jump in and out throughout the book without it ever really developing. While we do find out what happened to her, it feels almost like an afterthought when we learn the truth and it doesn’t get the depth of explanation I wanted. So I think the book could have benefitted from tightening up the many plot threads and developing them a little further.
Overall, I found this one a lot of fun, however. I really liked Lysandros and Theo together and particularly enjoyed the way the mythology is built into the story. It looks like there are more books to come in this series featuring other gods so I am definitely looking forward to see how the authors continue to build this world.