Format: oversized paperback, trade paperback edition, 2016
Reading Time: about 11.5 hours
One Sentence Synopsis: Fiona, through her association with a mysterious old man, gets caught up in a battle between gods, only to find out secrets that upend the world she thought she knew.
I first heard about Paternus: Rise of Gods through the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (SBFBO), where it received some high praise and ended up as a semi-finalist. Though I prefer epic fantasy and Swords & Sorcery, I will occasionally crack open a urban fantasy. So did I agree with the praise from the SPFBO? Read on to find out. First, a few guest reviews from around the internet…
RockStarlit BookAsylum (cool name!) states: “Rise of Gods builds up slowly, but the second half or so is packed with action to the brim. But then you need a bit of time to get used to the book being written in the third person, present tense and the sudden changes in the POV, which sometimes can be kind of annoying. Because of this and that things happen really fast, and mythical creatures and legends get a rather big role (maybe bigger than they should have at some points) there isn’t enough time and space for character building (I liked how Fi and Zeke adapted to the situation though), so this book is rather action driven. Sometimes this is overwhelming and makes hard to connect to the main characters: Fi, Zeke and Peter. Although their interactions are good and they bring some humor into the bloodbath, which does good to the book. These light moments are refreshing and give a moment of break to get from one scene to the other…The writing is smooth otherwise and this book is crammed with mythology, stories, names and legends from all around the world: from Native America through Ancient Europe to Africa and Asia. Good points for Mr Ashton using the less known legends and stories instead of the overused greek and roman gods. Actually, let’s give the man respect for doing such a thorough research to bring together so many cultures.”
J.C. Kang of Fantasy-Faction explains: “From my personal preferences of fantasy fiction, two aspects, one after the other, dug Paternus into a deep hole: Third Person Present Tense. Dipping into many characters’ thoughts in quick succession. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the gold standard in executing the latter brilliantly; and since nothing quite compares to Douglas Adam’s masterpiece, it would be unfair to compare Paternus to it. That said, I’ve never been accused of being fair. While it took me a while to get used to the perspective, I found Paternus to be a swift-paced, fascinating story, written in vibrant prose. I was intrigued by the fantasy elements in an urban setting, and was trying to figure out if it was a werewolf story. Don’t Panic! It’s not a paranormal romance. There’s no snarky heroine or brooding love interest…The benefit of the Omniscient Viewpoint is that we get a glimpse into so many different heads, to understand their motivations. It is easy to like, loathe, adore, or otherwise feel invested in many of the characters. That said, it was also hard for me to connect deeply to any of them. I would certainly classify it as a plot-driven story. The Omniscient Viewpoint sometimes leads to the head-hopping effect. I sometimes felt like I was caught in a Michael Bay movie, jumping from the thoughts of one character to another. This was particularly disorienting during fights.”
Finally, Dorian Hart says: “My issues with Paternus are mostly of the technical/editorial sort; it felt like any editing done was light and incomplete. That is not to say the book is one of those amateurish nightmares of the self-pubbed world with dozens of typos and piles of broken grammar. Overall the writing is quite good. But there were many small things that kept pulling me up short: comma splices, wrong homophones (e.g. peaked instead of piqued), use of interrobangs and multiple exclamation marks, and similar small glitches…Paternus is written in the third-person present tense, which is fine, but the head-hopping between characters was so constant, it gave me whiplash. It often happens between short paragraphs without so much as a section break. And while there are a lot of characters in Paternus (and I love some of them and like most of them), the two lead characters, Fi and Zeke, felt flat to me. They seemed more like witnesses and people-to-whom-things-happen than interesting characters driving the action…So, what did I like? First, just to get this out of the way, the author knows how to write sentences to serve his action…and this book is almost all action. There are beautiful and evocative images throughout, and his ability to describe scenes is magnificent. So understand, despite my complaints, this is not by any means a poorly written book. Quite the opposite…But the star of this show is the action. The pace of Paternus is so relentless, and the battles so entertaining and cinematic, no piddly little editing issues were going to stop me from turning the next page. The conceit of battling gods from multiple pantheons is absolutely brilliant. (Quetzalcoatl vs. Hephaestus and the Minotaur! Anansi vs. Galahad! Kali vs. Baphomet! Cerberus vs. the Devil!) As a 14-year-old D&D nerd reading the hardcover Deities and Demigods, I loved to speculate about who would win if (for instance) Odin fought against Cthulhu. Dyrk Ashton wrote a whole book about that kind of epic clash of titans, and it’s every bit as delightful as it sounds. The research and knowledge of world mythologies that went into his work is astounding, and the novel is just plain popcorn fun from beginning to end.”
To start, I think Dorian makes some great points. Like him, as a teenager I imagined battles between gods from the Deities and Demigods book from the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game, so Paternus calls to that part of my imagination, and I have no issues with the premise of the plot. After laying low for many years, suddenly all these god-like creatures are about to get caught up in war that forces them all to choose a side. The two sides are the Asura, who are classified as bad, and the Deva, who are the good guys. However, the plot contains a serious hole big enough to drive a truck through. When the Asura leader Kleron sets his minions against an old man named Peter, who is a dementia patient in a hospital, it unleashes a chain of events that continually serve to thwart Kleron’s plans. It makes no sense as to why Kleron simply didn’t send a wealth of his Asura minions out to pick off the Deva one by one, since they are mostly scattered and vulnerable. This does happen in a few instances, but surely there are more Deva in the world, and in some cases Kleron doesn’t send enough minions to ensure success. Had Kleron wiped out the Deva, he could have then turned his attention to the hospital, leaving old man Peter with no allies. It’s a bit of a blunder for a character that is portrayed throughout the story as being a step ahead of his opponents.
There are a few other problems with the story. One involves the use of cybernetic insects on parallel worlds, and it’s not really clear how they have come into being or how the Kleron controls them and has them do his bidding. Some characters are “unbeatable”, so there’s not much tension with regard to the outcomes of their battles. And the third-person present tense is an awkward choice. As J.C. and Dorian describe it, the head-hopping between characters using an omniscient viewpoint is often troublesome.
And this brings us to the main problem with Paternus: Rise of Gods – the characterization. For much of the book, Fi and Zeke feel underdeveloped, and the beginning, as other reviewers have pointed out, definitely has a YA urban fantasy/angst love story vibe. That’s not necessarily a deal breaker, but that type of perspective does not lend itself well to deep character development. As Dorian says, they simply react to events going on around them without driving the action. It gives them a feeling of being bystanders, and that aspect, combined with their limited viewpoint – due to the number of different characters with page time – makes them feel shallow. To me, Ashton is merely describing their feelings…I didn’t really feel what they were feeling. As for the god-like creatures, we can’t really understand what’s going on in their head or why the even care about certain things, especially the few that are millions of years old.
SPOILER ALERT! There’s a scene where the Asura master and his minions get into a secret catacomb before the protagonists do…how is this possible? How did the Asura master even know about the catacombs? It is not explained. Additionally it is revealed that Zeke has a “power”, even though he is mortal. So where does this power come from? Even some of the more knowledgeable characters admit that they don’t know. And what are the chances that a mortal with Zeke’s powers should not only be close to Fi (who is also more than she seems), but an intricate part of her life? It feels like there is a piece missing here, so my hope is that Ashton actually has an explanation that will be revealed in sequel and that it’s not just a huge coincidence for the sake of the plot.
There’s a significant chunk of downtime towards the end where a big infodump occurs. Usually authors will place an infodump at or near the beginning of the story. Why? Because it slows down the pace. By placing the infodump at the end, where normally an author is building up tension to an exciting conclusion, Ashton has robbed his story of some of that tension by stalling out while trying to process the infodump. Fortunately the copious amounts of previous action sequences carry the day. Also, it should be noted that there is some darkness to this fantasy, with gore, heads being ripped off or eyeballs plucked, and a sex scene that may bother more sensitive readers.
Although this review sounds overwhelming negative, there are positive aspects to the story. In addition to the brilliant warring gods concept, the action sequences that these gods engage in are described very well. And I actually enjoyed the linking of the same mythological being throughout a variety of different cultures. It’s clear Ashton has done his homework and taken it to another level. And the pace, aside from the infodump near the end, is fast-moving.
In conclusion, despite many problems with the story, Ashton manages to make it work to enough of a degree that I will probably spring for the sequel, Paternus: Wrath of Gods. While it not one of my favorite reads lately, it wasn’t a struggle to get through and has a lot of things going for it, and I’m curious to see what direction Ashton takes the sequel in.