Paternus is a dark fantasy, and it features gods. Which gods? Pretty much all of them.
I have to give a nod to debut author Dyrk Ashton for the amount of research he must have done to write this book. There is so much detail and scope. He weaves in folk lore and mythology from across the world, from Odin to Merlin, vampires to minotaurs, gods, demons and plenty of others.
The main characters are Fi and Zeke, a young man and woman living in the USA. They’re busy working at a hospital for people with dementia, and tripping over the idea that they’re perfect for each other. Then, fate steps in and throws them violently into a struggle between a huge array of mythical beings and supposed deities.
Some of these creatures get the chance to tell the story from their perspective. Ashton gives entire chapters over to secondary characters. I actually thought this worked really well. His fantastic ideas about mythology are shown from the off, and contrast nicely with Fi and Zeke’s initial calamities; do they like each other? Will Fi ever have a comfortable coexistence with her uncle Edgar? etc. There’s plenty of description and the author’s extensive research is displayed throughout.
Of course, research does not make a good book on its own. Nor does loads of detail. I had to try three times to get through Tolkien’s Silmarillion, and few of the details have stuck with me. Thankfully, this was not the case with Paternus. Ashton manages to make his descriptions vivid enough that the characters stay with the reader. Sometimes a character features in a chapter and disappears for a couple of hundred pages.
Usually this annoys me to no end, but somehow, it just worked here. I had no trouble recalling who a character was, even if I had not seen them for half the book. With George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, I constantly had to flick back and check who was who, but not with Paternus.
Ashton also manages to do exposition well, for the most part. There’s a lot of explanation of the world’s history as it really happened according to the novel. There’s a huge amount of detail to take in, but again, it just flowed so easily. I can’t place my finger on why this worked, because it got on my nerves in books like the Mistborn Trilogy. Here though, box ticked, enjoyment added to, interest firmly held.
But here’s the thing. While I loved Paternus, I did not love Fi and Zeke, the main characters. They were not badly written, but they are outshone completely by the supporting cast. The supernatural beings were great, and they had a lot of depth. Fi spent too much of the book disbelieving her own eyes for my liking. Three quarters of the way through, she was still thinking or saying that things were impossible, even though they were happening right in front of her. Zeke also came across as a bit of a plot device in places. He’s got extensive knowledge on mythology. Often he would jump into a conversation to explain some history, just so another character could say ‘No wait! This is what really happened.’
Thankfully, this does not actually take much away from the story. They spend most of it reacting to events, rather than causing them. To borrow a quote from Welcome to Night Vale, ‘Death is only the end if you assume the story is about you.’ Fi and Zeke manage to be main characters in a tale that, at the moment, is not really their story. It feels like they will become more and more important as the series continues, but in Paternus, they play second fiddle. The gods, demons, good and evil minions are the best performers here. I won’t say who my favourite characters are because it would spoil some of the secrets that Paternus contains. But I can almost guarantee that the true stars of the show will sweep you into their world and leave you wanting more.
Perhaps that was Ashton’s intention. Fi and Zeke are there to accompany the reader as they step into a stunning world of untold power. They help add some humanity to the extra/super/completely inhuman struggle unfolding around them.
While not perfect, Paternus was a very strong book and frankly, I’m staggered that it’s Dyrk Ashton’s debut novel. It’s got some of the brilliance of Gaiman’s American Gods, the detail of Tolkien’s Silmarillion, and plenty of identity all its own. And according to his website, the author traded a horse for his first car. That on its own should make him interesting enough for you to buy his book. I really enjoyed Paternus, and I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for a sequel.