The sort of godhood that comes from the Rituals of Blood is usually, but not always, something people do to themselves; they eat the flesh of innocence and drink its blood and they fix the mask of monster on their face and their face rots away until mask is all there is. But there is something worse: the cunning monster who takes innocence and forces it to eat until there is a puppet that dances for him, dances the deaths of thousands more innocents while a saint or a child screams inside it. [loc.1059]
Mara is incredibly ancient and effectively immortal, but absolutely not a goddess: she strongly discourages anyone who describes her as divine. No, her longevity and strength and magic are all for 'the work' -- and Mara's job is to prevent people becoming deities.
The fact that Mara reveals this whilst drinking with Aleister Crowley in a bar in Sicily gives some idea of the flavour of Rituals, the first in the Rhapsody of Blood sequence. It's an immensely eclectic (and erudite) (and occasionally plain rude, in a good way) novel, packed with references to myth, literature, classical music, theology and world history. And if Mara can occasionally seem somewhat ... intimidating, Emma -- the other protagonist, whom we first encounter as an Oxford undergraduate in the 1980s -- is entirely down to earth. Which is more than can be said for her girlfriend Caroline. ("'I am immaterial girl'. 'Ouch,' said Emma." [loc 350])
There is a heck of a lot of plot in this novel, and I'm not going to attempt to encapsulate it here. Suffice to say that there are gods and goddesses, as well as (including?) elves and vampires and drag queens and Marilyn Monroe and Morgan le Fay. There are unflinching examinations of the extremes of cruelty to which greed and hubris can drive human beings; there are comic set-pieces, tender love scenes, and the annual Festival of Lost Opera. And there are moments of casual lyricism ("one of those gorgeous Brahms cello and viola meanders, the music of rivers thinking to themselves" [loc.2047]) and more snark, banter and irreverence than you can shake a spear at.
It would not be a proper review if I did not gripe about something, even though the author is a friend: there are occasional clunky bits, and a couple of typos / inconsistencies. Nothing that got in my way.
Did I mention? I liked this book very much: its exuberance, its invention, and its pacing. (And I have an advance copy of the next in the sequence, mwa ha ha ha ha...)