The Maenad's God

Fiction - Literary
432 Pages
Reviewed on 03/28/2023
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

Karen Michalson has written four novels, including The Maenad’s God, which was selected by Independent Book Review as one of the best novels of 2022 and by IndieReader as one of the Best Reviewed Books of March 2023. It also received a 5-Star Highly Recommended Award of Excellence from The Historical Fiction Company.

Her earlier novels form the Enemy Glory Trilogy: Enemy Glory, Hecate’s Glory, and The King’s Glory. Enemy Glory, the first book of the trilogy, was one of the books that received the most votes for the Locus Award for Best First Novel. It was chosen for Locus’s Recommended Reading List of Best First Novels.

Michalson’s first book, a non-fiction work, Victorian Fantasy Literature’s Literary Battles with Church and Empire, examines the non-literary and non-aesthetic reasons underlying the bias in favor of realism in the formation of the traditional literary canon of nineteenth-century British fiction.

Her books have been favorably reviewed by Clarion Foreword, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Independent Book Review, Literary Titan, Blue Ink Review, and numerous others.

Michalson practiced criminal law for a decade. She left the law profession to return to her novel-writing career full time. She holds a PhD in English from the University of Massachusetts and a JD from Western New England University School of Law.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite

The Maenad's God by Karen Michalson is an occult mystery novel that revolves around a disillusioned FBI agent named Pete Morrow set in the 1990s. Pete is caustic in his view of the world and, despite his best attempts to do as little as possible, things have a tendency to lead him where he needs to be. Getting a job at the FBI was unexpected, he is volatile toward others and has a general disdain for everyone. When Pete is transferred from one investigative unit to a military base to investigate a drug-dealing operation, the job he applied for as a joke gets very, very real. Between Mafioso, a soldier gone missing, a band that seems to have its drumsticks in everything, a second murder, a false identity, and a horrible find in the desert that makes whatever Jimmy Hoffa went through look amateurish, Pete must navigate a path littered with all things metaphysical and corrupt against the tide of public and media perception.

If there is one slice of discourse by a character that Pete would actually agree with in The Maenad's God by Karen Michalson, it's when a dubious preacher utters, “We are dirt. We are nothing. We are putrid flesh, Lord. We are worms and less than worms.” Pete's snark-o-meter is off the charts and this is what makes him brilliant as a character. Michalson as a writer has a style reminiscent of Nell Zink's Nicotine, and Pete's blurry escapism into literature is on a par with that of Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey. I loved the mystical elements of Pete's journey and I especially liked when he begins to emulate what it is he might be up against in his own way. The story has intrigue and even though Pete's soliloquies sometimes wander off into the weeds, Michalson keeps the suspense moving with characters who are so lifelike that they feel real and landscape descriptions that border on cinematic. And who doesn't love it when a band is in the mix? This is a fantastic story with a lot to offer and I can see its potential for incredible spin-offs.

Rabia Tanveer

The Maenad's God by Karen Michalson is set in 1992 and follows Special Agent Peter Morrow, an FBI agent who never wanted the job in the first place. His attitude problems are so big that he is removed from the missing persons unit and assigned something new. Peter’s new job is to track down a drug dealer and bring an end to his reign. However, when he gets to Rome, New York, things appear to be far different than he anticipated. His target isn’t there, but things get fishier when he finds a dead body with Peter’s target’s name attached to it. To make matters worse, Peter becomes infatuated with a local yet famous band’s bassist, Jade McClellan. The more time he spends with Jade the more complicated things become. Before Peter knows it, he is entangled in a web of lies, myths, gods, and more. Is this case cursed from the beginning? Or is Peter the only one to solve it?

The Maenad’s God is a dark, psychological thriller with magical realism, romance, myth, murder mystery, and more all rolled into one perfect maze. I was initially overwhelmed as the blurb made the story sound complicated, and Peter is obsessive, compulsive, and a smartass. He has no idea when to shut his mouth, and that often leads him into trouble, but it is all part of his charm. I had a hard time connecting with him in the beginning, but his snark and sassiness grew on me, and I enjoyed all the muddle Peter created in his wake. Jade and his secret were surprising and I was genuinely not expecting that, but the execution of it was perfect. I also wasn’t expecting the mixture of all the different themes to work, but Karen Michalson makes it work somehow. I had a grand time reading, and I highly recommend this book.

Stephanie Chapman

The Maenad's God by Karen Michalson is a paranormal thriller starring Special Agent Peter Morrow, a sarcastic, highly educated man who majored in English and obtained his job with the FBI with a satirical essay. Morrow is assigned to appear at an Army base to investigate Claude Hopner for dealing drugs. As the evening passes and a band, Black Dog, finishes loading their van, Morrow discovers a grisly corpse. An autopsy and personnel records fail to reveal the identity of the body, and Morrow provides the information about the death to his boss, who takes him off the case. Morrow decides to continue the investigation. He follows the band, only to become more confused. Morrow starts to question himself and his intentions.

I was impressed with Karen Michalson’s writing from Peter's perspective, and his inner thoughts. Despite a dark overshadowing in the paranormal, Peter’s sarcasm created moments of light. I thought Cara, Juno, and Selene were threats to Peter’s safety. Cara was possessive of the band’s lead singer, Jade. Juno liked stirring up drama and watching it play out. Selene was odd and always shadowed Cara. The supporting characters' personalities were on display completely. The dialogue Peter engaged in with other characters felt natural; even Penny’s supernatural speeches fit in. Of particular interest to me was how "Fearless" was Peter’s boss, yet played as a puppet for political matters. The storyline was unique and completely unpredictable. The conclusion was shocking. I would recommend The Maenad's God to readers who enjoy suspenseful novels about intriguing characters dealing with paranormal activities.

Jamie Michele

The darkness that Agent Pete Morrow is set to experience in The Maenad's God by Karen Michalson is not at first fully understood but leaps out through a sequence of events that defy even the most acerbic mind. Pete is a jerk. He's an introvert with terrible social skills who believes everyone is dumb except for him. As an introverted jerk myself, Pete is kind of my hero. Anyway, Pete, an FBI agent, is punted into a drug investigation after he punches someone. When the suspect disappears, he turns next to a band that seems to be conveniently associated with several parts of the investigation and, ultimately, a bigger deal in Pete's life and own identity. The plot thickens when a murder drops and the dead aren't who they claimed to be. The hunt for answers is distracted by Pete's internal turmoil but it's difficult to be too distracted when ancient witches, tortured bodies and souls, and a centuries-long reincarnation are all in Pete's current realm.

Well, that did not go how I expected at all. In the back of my mind, I was thinking the story would lead to a Waco, Texas-type climax with some paranormal nuggets for good measure, but Karen Michalson surprised me with The Maenad's God. The LGBTQ+ thread in the storyline should have been clear to me from the blurb but I'm quite pleased that I missed it because having it grow organically as a surprise was better. Jade is on the red herring spectrum and the questions that remain or are added to the subplots are amplified because Pete's first-person narrative can be questionable. He is an unreliable narrator and the heavy mysticism pieces of Michalson's puzzle also lead us to question if what we see through Pete might not be what is happening. Naturally, we see how it converges and whether or not Pete's accounting is accurate, all in a voice that comes in a punchy stream of consciousness and epic sarcasm. It's perfection. Very highly recommended.

K.C. Finn

The Maenad's God is a work of fiction in the psychological thriller, magical realism, and dark romance subgenres. It is best suited to the mature adult reading audience and was penned by author Karen Michalson. In this intriguing and engrossing work, filled with a mythic atmosphere and scintillating romantic suspense, we meet a disillusioned FBI agent whose interest is aroused by a sudden murder. When Pete Morrow’s path crosses that of the enigmatic rocker Jade McClellan, the encounter sparks Pete’s obsession with Jade and sends the two men into a spiral of obsession, power, and tension. Little does Pete know that a wider magical game is being played over his head, and the players of this game hardly care if he loses everything in the process.

Author Karen Michalson has crafted a gorgeous work that fans of mythology, suspenseful relationship dramas, and murder mysteries alike will all find fulfilling. For me, this was an ideal read, from its queer theming through to the satirical fun poked at the insignificant things we get bogged down with in our everyday lives as we fail to notice the bigger picture and the world falling apart all around us. I also found the setting to be deeply engrossing, suitable angsty, and gritty for a 90s fantasy tale, and there was something deeply nostalgic about the rock band sensibilities of Jade and his Dionysus-fuelled lifestyle. Overall, The Maenad's God is a unique novel that not everyone will ‘get’, but those who do will find it gripping, satisfying, and impossible to put down even after you’ve finished it.