The Daughters of Freya, by Michael Betcherman & David Diamond

>> Friday, July 08, 2005

A few weeks ago I received an email from Michael Betcherman, one of the authors of The Daughters of Freya. He offered me a reviewer's copy (my very first!) and, never one to turn down any freebies, I obviously said yes. Plus, it did sound intriguing ;-)

Journalist Samantha Dempsey never imagined her life would turn out like this. Her 19 year-old son has fallen in love with an older woman. Her mother is a basket case, still haunted by the death of Samantha’s brother in a car accident years ago. Her once-promising career as a journalist has ground to a halt. And the cracks in her marriage are wide and getting wider.

In the midst of all this turmoil, Samantha gets an email from a desperate friend whose 21 year-old daughter has joined The Daughters of Freya, a California cult that believes sex is the solution to the world’s problems. He wants Samantha to write a story that will expose the cult as a fraud.

Samantha pitches the story to Jane Sperry, the editor of a San Francisco magazine and an old college friend. Sperry sends Samantha to Marin County to write a piece on the cult but she soon finds out that there is more to the cult than meets the eye.

She discovers that the cult’s ‘spiritual guide’ has a secret and insidious agenda, and wealthy and powerful partners who will stop at nothing to prevent her from revealing the truth.

As Samantha risks her life in an attempt to penetrate the inner workings of the cult, she must deal with a personal life that is threatening to fall apart and a past she thought she had left far behind.
The Daughters of Freya (which I keep spelling "Freyja"... way too much Bedwyn influence here, I guess), isn't a book, but an "email mystery". What this means is that the entire story is delivered directly to your inbox, over a few weeks, via emails in which you basically see the activity of Samantha Dempsey's email account: the mails she sends and she receives. If you want to see an example of what this looks like, you can get the first three emails here.

Anyway, you get to follow Sam as she goes deeper and deeper investigating the story of the cult, but not only that, you also see what's going on in her personal life in the meantime. It's not just email, many of the messages have links to outside content, as real emails would, so you also have access to things like pictures of the johns (when Sam sends photos to people, trying to identify them), e-tickets, the articles Sam writes, when they get posted on the paper's website, and so on.

I must say, I had some doubts about whether a story could be satisfyingly told this way. I mean, I've already read mostly-email books (like Meg Cabot's Boy Meets Girl, which I loved), but this was taking things a step further. Well, it worked.

The mystery was intriguing and well-constructed (I got a real surprise there at the end) and I found myself getting drawn in by the characters. I especially liked how Sam's "real life" didn't just stop because she was busy investigating the cult. Her son gets in trouble, her mother gets into a cyber-relationship, her dad's new wife has a health scare, her marriage goes through some rough spots, not least because of the all-consuming nature of her new investigation. This made the characters much more real to me.

As this was a review copy, I had the option of going to the website and reading the different messages when I wanted to, instead of waiting for the emails to arrive in my Inbox. From the beginning, I decided I wasn't going to do this. I'd read the emails as they arrived, wanting to get the experience a regular reader would. At first I was fine, once the story got really going, it was a close thing and I almost went to the website a few times because I couldn't wait to see what was going to happen next. How's that for an endorsement? My grade: a B.

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