Unfortunately, I was forming too many questions that weren’t getting answers so I started skimming this grimdark, mythpunk novel. What I found did not make up for the more cringey aspects of the writing and character development. I was willing to hang in there for the plot but so much of the exposition wasn’t logical to me (the ontology of the gods, etc.). This is a DNF for me, but if you have answers to some of the problematic examples I have below, let me know. I’m willing to listen but I wasn’t willing to keep reading. This book is potentially offensive to those who still practice religions whose “characters” become caricatures (especially Hindu gods mentioned) and there’s some glib references to things like the first and second “Holocaust” of mortals, which could be triggering. There’s a lot more showing than telling in the writing, as other reviewers on goodreads have pointed out, but the story becomes a thesis of another white man trying make all religions one which I rolled my eyes at. I get that other authors (below) have done the same thing, but this was just a really shallow and dude-bro version of it. A lot of the male reviewers giving this so many positive reviews confirmed this for me.
First, I liked the idea that this book was indie and that the updated cover to this novel reminded me of Percy Jackson (not that I like that series, it just seemed like a response to it/like that is what it was selling). The cover looks like one of the opening scenes in Percy Jackson with the minotaur, but it might actually be a buffalo on the cover? But the gods in this novel feel more cartoony – like in Thundercats or Gargoyles. Humanoid beings that seem to be a statement on Egyptian depictions over the real reasons Egyptians put animal heads on their gods. Like that seems to be what I can make out based on other reviewers, but correct me if I’m wrong. It also seems silly to depict them like this in light of the fact not all Egyptian gods were depicted with animal heads. But I’ll move on.
Where I really get hung up, and why I held out for as long as I did, was the mythos. The ontology and cosmology of gods. To its benefit, it doesn’t seem to hinge on the same “Gods need prayer badly” trope that American Gods does. Apparently there is a “Father” character (thus the title?) that is the creator/head of all gods in all mythologies. This reminded me of Father in The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins, who creates the next generation of gods from mortals but different in that Mount Char’s Father can create his replacements and step down (a Demiurge?) and he never claims to be the creator of all of the other gods of all past religions, I don’t think. There’s more complexity left open in that book (that I really really recommend!).
In Jo Walton’s Thessaly series there’s a similar thread, where Apollo explains that Zeus is really the head of all of these different circles of mythical deities (ie goes by many names, whatever). There’s really only one supreme being and all religions are connected and answer to Him. It feels very monotheistic to some degree — like no, no these little gods really answer to one transcendent father figure, thus implying there is a big-g God like in Christianity. I think even Jesus is brought up in that part of the book and later in the series there’s this bastardization of Christianity that forms from a child who was taken from a specific timeline but was never really well educated on his religion so it’s this warped interpretation. It’s…interesting. But it’s not the most interesting part of the book to me. It’s funny looking back on how The Just City tried to suppress a Christian monotheistic view in some sense (within its characters censoring some texts, I think?) yet its own cosmic gods seemed to answer to a monotheism. I think that’s the irony of Neoplatonism in general? I don’t know. I’m not a philosopher. Anyways, my point is this isn’t a new thing Dyrk Ashton is doing, and there’s a few who did it better. The Automation by anonymous is another one that does something syncretic, yet it doesn’t make overt claims on what is/who is The One or big-g God, but it’s implied there is a system that functionally could include reasons why all religions/myths exist. It just doesn’t waste it’s time listing its reasons and it certainly doesn’t try to make other religions fit into a box for a novel. Things are left open to interpretation and belief, as they should be.
This is my biggest beef with a novel like Paternus. I think it’s fine to say that all religions are true, but it’s another to rewrite how they are true or say “they are one.”
I also think this erases the arguments religions have with themselves. Christianity is perhaps a response to how Judaism was “wrong” or needed to “change” in its view. Islam was formed out of similar “arguments,” you could argue. The fact there are so many religions based on a single conversation is interesting, but to pick a side in a novel can invalidate an entire population. It also doesn’t always feel right to butt one conversation into another conversation happening when you don’t have much to add. I don’t know. This is something I’ve struggled with as well as other writers. I think it comes down to something like the “Elvis” argument I’ve heard for Black Music recently. Are you paying dues to the culture you’re taking from or are you like Elvis and stealing to make your brand? With this book, are we rebranding literal religions? But let me make another point.
Take this quote from Paternus for example:
“Though the name given to The Rhino by his father is Arges, the one early clan of watoto took to calling him Hephaestus, a name later appropriated by one of the insolent petit gods he’d trained as a smith. The peoples of Asgard called him Völundr, then Dvalinn for a time, and their descendants on this world, Wayland the Smith. The Romans knew him from stories passed down for generation as Vulcan. To the proto-Hungarians he was Hadúr, god of fires and war, and in cosmologies of Africa he is remembered as Gu, Vodun of iron.” p.120
So, there’s a lot going on here but I’m lead to wonder why there’s no mention of Prometheus, since actually Hephaestus would have been a “petit” god after him and their mythologies largely blended at times (Who made Pandora? Who released Athena from Zeus’s head? Depends on who you ask). You can’t say the same of Arges and Hephaestus at all. Their myths don’t overlap so it’s hard to know where Ashton is coming from, comparing a cyclops to an Olympian. Likewise, the Egyptian equivalent of Hephaestus would have been Ptah, but another character in the novel is said bear that persona. This incongruity just really made me sigh when I found it.
On a positive note, Ashton really tried with the female character. You can tell his heart was in the right place, never mind some of the awkward things he chose to focus on. Fi really takes center stage as the MC. But the corny dialog was just too much to make it count for me. Dyrk Ashton seems like a very interesting and nice guy who has lived an interesting life. I’m glad he’s writing and has been able to get so much attention as an indie author but I think I’ll just wait for what comes next from him rather than continue this series. I feel like there’s something better that can come from him.
Other reviews I agree with:
– 80% through the book and still there is no indication of what first borns are, where their power is coming from and what they are up to! When the reader does not know about basic rules of the world, then everything that happens seems like divine interventions and when everything feels like that, it is hard to stay engaged as you cannot expect what comes next and whatever comes next does not make any sense. The book looks like a movie with tons of CGI which you cannot enjoy as there is no explanation for them….Shoving tons of mythical characters in a book does not make it cool! This is not an action movie that the more CGI you put into it the better it gets! The story should make sense. Those mythical characters should fit into the story.
It’s not enough for the book to explain that a character is one god in a Pantheon but it then has to spell out all the gods they are in all pantheons, who their mother is, and how they feel about life. This can go on for pages and is often right in the middle of impactful events. Funnily enough, the main characters constantly ask for an explanation and don’t get a full one until like 60% and 80% into the book.
One scene this hit me the hardest was when we have a relatively minor character who is dying, and as they are dying they reflect for a solid page or two on how they feel about humanity.
The pacing/explaining is hurt further by the constant POV swaps, literally between paragraphs, and the LOL random moments that occur.
On the bright side, I really like Fi. The Fi/Edgar relationship was super great. Would have loved to see more of that. Zeke, on the other hand, was insufferable. Zeke reads like hardcore wish fulfillment.