Book Review: Paternus: Wrath of Gods by Dyrk Ashton

wrath of godsFormat: oversized paperback, first edition, 2018

Pages:  511 (not counting appendices and bonus material)

Reading Time:  about 12.5 hours

One Sentence Synopsis:  As Fi and Zeke discover more about who they really are, they continue to be swept up in the battle between the Deva and Asura – but a bigger, deadlier threat emerges that may bring about the prophesied “End of the World”.

 

I will admit I was pretty critical in my review of the first book in the Paternus series, Rise of Gods, but I saw enough promise (and received some inspiring input from RockStarlit BookAsylum), so I decided to spring for the sequel. I was specifically looking to see if the questions I had from the first book would be answered, or if they would go unexplained and kill some of the major plot points. After reading Paternus: Wrath of Gods, I have my answer. You’ll have to read on to get my take, but spoilers of this book (and of the first) may be present – you have been warned. But first, some guest reviews from the Web…

 

RockStarlit BookAsylum (still owning the coolest blog name ever) says: “It’s a hell of a roller coaster ride, one which you can’t get enough of. The events are picked up right at where they were left at the end of Rise of Gods. If you don’t remember everything that happened in that book, don’t you worry, Mr Ashton was kind enough to provide a short summary for you. Unless in Rise of Gods, in this book we only follow two groups of characters, which makes things much easier. I also had less problem to adjusting to the present tense, which can be quite annoying at first, but after a few pages I completely forgot about it and just let the flow carry me on. We also get a lot less info dumps, or they are offered in a better way which actually makes it bearable. Although in some cases the info dump totally break the pace of a fight scene making it longer than necessary. A lengthy description of a weapon during a fight might not be the best idea. In Wrath of Gods the stakes are getting higher, and if you thought it’s impossible to dig up even more mythological creatures, then think again. Dyrk Ashton has some more of them up in his sleeves and not afraid to use them. And play with your emotions too while he is at it. With books like this where a lot happens in a short period of time and have a huge cast of characters one of the problems can be the lack of character building. Or more like the lack of place/time for character building…Fi and Zeke also get their moments, but I still feel that them and Peter are the less developed characters compared to some of the others. I like Fi’s fierceness and strong personality and it was interesting to see as she comes in terms with her heritage. And I’m looking forward to see how she copes with the current situation in the next book. Zeke… find it hard to come to terms with him. It feels like that he is mostly just along for the ride, giving away his knowledge. But then, some of the most interesting scenes belonged to him.

J.C. Kang of Fantasy-Faction states: “The first half of the book reminds me of the old adage about travel broadening the mind, with the caveat of having to survive. The main characters split off on their own adventures, where they develop their powers and discover their heritage. Bitten by the spider, Max, Fi learns what it means to be Firstborn—the ability to understand all languages, endurance, strength, etc. She has to unlearn everything she thinks she knows about herself, with the guidance of Peter and her Firstborn siblings. Zeke continues to be an enigma, with an underlying intrigue—not being Firstborn, there are so many things he should not be able to do, such as slip; and more impressively, pick up a weapon that even Firstborn cannot…It raises a larger question: while to humans, the Firstborn could be considered gods, there is room left for capital-G God. Older Firstborn relate to visiting Christ during his lifetime (and indeed, they fit into the biblical Three Wise Men story), and Fi’s uncle, Galahad, clearly believes in God, despite knowing of Peter. The plot moves along at a good pace along three main story lines, as we are introduced to more Deva and Asura. Like in Empire Strikes Back, where we learn there is a bigger, badder evil than Darth Vader, we find out that the behind book one puppet master Claron is someone even worse. Not only that, but it appears that Earth might have an expiration date. My main complaint of book one was the head-hopping feel of the present tense omniscient viewpoint. This was not a problem in book two. Perhaps I grew accustomed to it in book one, but I do feel Ashton smoothed out the transitions between character thoughts, making it easier to follow.

Finally, Petrik Leo of Novel Notions opines: “If you love the exposition of the mythologies in the first book but found it too info-dumpy, Ashton did a better job here in ensuring that the pacing of the story does not suffer from the same. My favorite newest inclusion in this regard was the importance of Hinduism for the plotline. Whether it’s the cosmic calendar, Ganesha, or Nagalok, the integration of the myths into the narrative never ceased to intrigue me…In the first book, although Zeke and Fi were the main characters, their presence was overwhelmed by Peter; I loved how this book changed that perception. We finally get more revelations around Zeke and Fi and the immense significance of their roles. Plus, their personalities were so much more fleshed out. The entire part two of the novel, or what I would say are the chapters which divulged Zeke’s background, for instance, was easily my favorite section. It was wholly engaging, a non-stop page turner, and unpredictable. Part three slowed down in pace as the narrative prepares for the big conclusion in the coming finale. Don’t give up too quickly easily on this series if you find yourself struggling through the first one-third of the first book — I disliked that part too. Dyrk has grown a lot as an author, professionally and writing-wise, since then. I do, however, have to admit that the book took some time for me to get used to despite the great pacing and compelling story. This is because of my personal issue with the narrative style that occasionally utilizes paragraphs to shift character perspectives, instead of chapters.

 

My Thoughts:

There were several issues I had with Paternus: Rise of Gods: a big plot hole, “unbeatable” immortals that rob the story of tension, an awkward third person present tense narrative, immortals that lack clear motivations, shallow “mortal” viewpoint characters who lack agency, and a bucketful of unanswered questions. Let’s address these one at a time:

  • The big plot hole was isolated to the first book. Though the effects of that plot hole will be present throughout the series, I didn’t find any major new plot holes in Wrath of Gods, so that’s a positive.
  • Unbeatable immortals? Well, that’s still kind of true, although this book expands on a threat from the first book, cybernetic insects that can kill immortals, so it adds a lot more tension here, since now it seems anyone could perish at any time.
  • The third person present tense narrative is still present, but perhaps I’m getting used to it as it didn’t bother me quite as much. As J.C. Kang says, it feels like Ashton improved transitions between viewpoints.
  • Most immortals still lack motivation, except when it comes to saving the world…otherwise we have no insight into why they feel and act the way they do. There are a few exceptions (such as Galahad).
  • The shallow mortal viewpoint characters, Fi and Zeke, get a bit more of their backstory revealed, which gives them a little more depth. Early in the story, they are still reacting to events, but towards the middle of the book they began to have agency, so that’s a positive, too.
  • Many of the questions I had in the first book have now been explained. While there are a few questions that have gone unanswered, overall Ashton has done a splendid job of avoiding what could have been inexplicable plot devices.

The pacing of Wrath of Gods is excellent. The plot careens from one action sequence to another, and as before, Ashton proves adept at handling battles, chases, and action-packed scenes. There is a spot in the middle of the book where things slow down a bit as the Deva gather for a meeting of the minds. It feels a little out of place – almost like having a party as the world is in danger of being destroyed – and there are some big info dumps going on. However, I will admit I loved reading about the Cosmic Calendar – that is pretty cool. When I told a friend about this at my workplace (he is originally from India), he was impressed that the Cosmic Calender was in the book and wanted to know what I was reading.

Spoiler Alert!!! Skip to next paragraph if necessary! I do still have a few questions I want to see answered…how did so many of the cybernetic insects get made? Why is Earth the “last world standing”? Why do Lucifer’s schemes line up with the Cosmic Calendar…is it predestination, or simply coincidence? How do God & Jesus fit into the Deva structure – or do they? Do angels such as Michael and Gabriel exist in this setting? When the immortals pray, who are they praying to? Lots of questions I hope will be answered in the third book.

One thing that I thought was cool was that Lucifer and Satan (Kleron) are not the same being. This actually fits with some Christian theology in which Satan was the angel that fell from heaven and became the Devil, while Lucifer was the king of Babel.

Some of the best parts of the book involve tongue-in-cheek sexual humor. It’s becoming clear that Fi and Zeke are probably going to become a thing, so it’s great fun to see the less-inhibited immortals like The Prathamaja Nandana toy with Fi about “closing the deal” with Zeke and pretending having interest in Zeke just to get Fi’s hackles up.

My favorite part was the appearance of Ganesha, who is probably my favorite immortal in real life, as I have 3 different Ganesha statues in my library. Some other new characters are introduced, and a couple fall by the wayside. We also see some interesting artifacts make an appearance, including one that Kleron uses to control the cybernetic insects.

In conclusion, I enjoyed Wrath of Gods immensely, far more than Rise of Gods. With even more action, stellar pacing (except for one scene), better character development, some questions answered, and more danger leading to more tension, this book is superior to the first in every way, and at times had that “just one more chapter” feel. I’m excited for the next release, Paternus: War of Gods, which is slated for release on May 19, 2020.

Book Review: Paternus: Rise of Gods by Dyrk Ashton

paternus

Format: oversized paperback, trade paperback edition, 2016

Pages: 457

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.