I don’t review many books. It doesn’t make much sense to publish critical reviews as an Author. And when I do enjoy a book I have a tendency to inhale it, usually finishing the book within 48 hours of picking them up. This rapid reading doesn’t leave a lot of time for analysis. Things can be misremembered or hazy as I sit back and ponder what made a book great.
With that disclaimer out of the way I’m going to jump on into a review of Dyrk Ashton’s Paternus. This book was selected as a Fantasy-Faction’s Self Publishing Blog Off finalist, beating out my own Off Leash and 28 others.
Paternus is a good book. If you’re somebody who cares about spoilers in your reviews don’t read further. I’m sorting out why it’s a good book for myself.
Let’s start at the cover of Paternus. Those characters on the cover are Peter, Zeke and Fi, and the story starts with a look at their mundane problems, but this is a fake-out. The apparently simple opening gives you an easy framework to settle into the (potentially) jarring fact that this book is brilliantly written in present tense, omniscient third-person. Ashton breaks all the conventional rules and does it well enough that it exposes the reason we’re told not to write this way: it’s not confusing or bad, it’s simply difficult.
The first chapters of Paternus begin slow as the world is slowly built up around the characters and the book lets you see the entire board before the game begins. This was initially frustrating. The book is prone to exposition that feels needless for the story the characters are involved in. And some of it is. Yet, it slowly dawns on you that the story involving Fi and Zeke isn’t the whole point.
Instead Paternus has two stories: one is the narrative arc, but the other is the world and how it came to be. These expositionary bits slowly assemble a different story in your head, the story of the mythology of the world.
Unlike Neil Gaiman’s American Gods where gods are created by belief, Paternus takes the opposite tack and creates a common history beneath the myths of different cultures. There are certainly criticisms that can be made of this approach, but Paternus doesn’t wobble or flinch from its chosen path. It unites these gods in a huge family of immensely powerful beings whose relationships are messy and layered. You see and feel the earth-shattering soap opera of the Gods in the story’s digressions. That’s the star of Paterus: the sense of Family remains even as these powerful beings battle and kill each other.
The most enjoyable parts of Paternus are the chapters dealing with Tanooki, Asterion and Arges. The three characters have a palpable sense of familiarity, family and mundanity that is not present in the main narrative. When the war spreads to their sanctuary, you feel it.
Paternus sets the stage for a wide and epic conflict between gods who are family. It never flinches from what it is and the author embraces his choices. What flaws it has are minor and the less detailed characters within the pages should blossom given more screen time (if they’re not killed off.) The world Ashton’s built is heading for a trainwreck and I want my pair of binoculars.
I recommend Paternus whole-heartedly.