Paternus by Dyrk Ashton – SPFBO Review: And Then There Was One!
|Formatt:||Paperback / Ebook|
|Release Date:||May 1, 2016|
The SPFBO team have completed their search for a finalist!
Today, only one book remains, and that is Paternus by Dyrk Ashton! Congratulations Dyrk! You are moving on to round two in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off!
You can read our review of our amazing second place winner for part one of the contest here.
G. R. Matthews: Well, here we are. Our final two. We’ve read a lot of books some good, some excellent and we’ve had to whittle our 30 down to one. It has been a tough challenge and also a privilege.
Paternus is, for me, a strange find. And I don’t mean that in any bad way at all. It just wasn’t what I was expecting from the cover we were presented with. In fact, it may have been the exact opposite to what I thought it was from the cover. I was really expecting a YA, Enid Blyton, Famous Five, Secret Seven kind of book. It wasn’t at all like that.
Laura M. Hughes: Those were my thoughts exactly. There’s nothing wrong with the cover, but it really doesn’t do the book justice. I didn’t look at any of the blurbs before I started reading. As you can probably imagine, when I got around to reading Paternus I was very surprised (in a good way!) with the direction the story took.
A.F.E. Smith: Me too! I really didn’t know what to expect from it, and in fact, that feeling continued throughout the book. I was never quite sure where it was going to go next. And I found it enjoyable to read a book so utterly unpredictable. Often you can get a sense of the shape of a fantasy novel, a kind of indistinct path down which you know you’re going to walk, even if the details aren’t yet clear. But I couldn’t tell where Paternus was taking me (guesses about the nature of certain characters aside) and that was great fun.
LMH: While we’re talking about expectations, I’d like to point out that one of the most contentious features we’ve come across in the SPFBO has been the use (and misuse) of prologues. We all agreed that Ravenmarked showed the strongest use of a prologue, and I thought Ruth Nestvold’s prologue to Yseult was also effective. However, we were all a bit uncertain about the opening of Paternus. Am I right?
GRM: I think the advice is clear for all future entrants. Don’t do a prologue. Just get on with the story. Having said that, chapter one in Paternus is a fine chapter, but left me wondering where it was going.
LMH: Yeah, I think ‘no prologues’ is extreme, but probably does apply to 80% of the entries we’ve read so far. And it’s interesting you should say that about Paternus: if you remember, I wasn’t too enamoured by the opening chapter. I had a few minor complaints about the teenage protagonist, Fi; and the ‘urban fantasy romance’ vibes at the start are misleading to say the least!
GRM: Good grief, yes. There is all sorts of teenage awkwardness going on in the beginning between Fi and the object of her desire. Thankfully, for me, this is just a background flavour of the character and that’s where it mostly stays.
AFE: I think what struck me most about that first chapter was the head-hopping. We all commented on that. The author writes using an omniscient viewpoint, which meant it took me a while to settle into it. I was torn, for several chapters, between ‘hey, this really has style!’ and ‘STICK TO ONE POV, DAMMIT’. But I think, as much as anything, that’s an indication of what we’ve become conditioned to expect from modern fantasy. First-person and close third-person points of view seem to be the accepted ways of writing, these days. Yet omniscient is a perfectly legitimate choice! In fact, once I’d got used to it, it became part of the book’s appeal.
And of course, it is also written in present tense, which made it stand out from the other entries – quite rare in a non-YA book, I think. I love present tense, and I think it works well for this particular story, but others may not like it.
GRM: Oh, the present tense. A brave move in a world that expects past tense for everything. Took a little while for me to realise this was an authorial choice, but once I did it just flowed so smoothly. What impressed me throughout, but particularly in a chapter set in a Turkish market was the sense of place in the descriptions. I’ve been known to read a travel book or two, and this chapter really evoked a feeling of being there, even if I wasn’t quite sure why were there until a little later on.
LMH: Now that you mention it, I agree that’s one of Paternus’s strongest points. That the author grounds us so well in each shifting setting is perhaps the main reason we didn’t feel confused – even when the story jumped all over the world. And although the excellent use of present tense plays a large part in this, I’d also like to credit the author’s ongoing use of quirky and evocative chapter headings for keeping me oriented.
GRM: You’re right about the story jumping a little, but think of all the research that has gone into this book. How the author is going to top it (if he needs to) is beyond me. It draws on every myth, legend and creature of every culture and time frame from prehistory to medieval, from Mesopotamia to Inca and more. I was so incredibly impressed by how he weaved it all together and didn’t just dump all the information on us in great big…well…dump.
LMH: Yes, dumping is bad. And Geoff, I’m as awed as you are by the pretty flawless way the author integrates (and modernises) so many myths, and particularly the fact that he represents little-known legends in addition to the more common ones. It makes them feel like individuals, rather than concepts, which makes them all the more sympathetic – or terrifying, depending on who it is. Like Max. Max scared the shite out of me.
AFE: God, yes. The author certainly has the ability to write really nasty villains. *shudder*
GRM: Max is well-written, but not the only one. In fact, all of the major players apart from the first two we meet, who do grow but really, to me, serve as our eyes on the world and its events, are well drawn and different. I am really looking forward to see where it goes from here.
AFE: Me too. But, you know, for all that I loved Paternus, it isn’t without its flaws. What book is? And sometimes I thought the piling-on of villains and henchmen was just a bit much. I remarked to GRM that it occasionally felt a bit like a computer game, where you have a gazillion baddies coming at you from different directions and you have to defeat them all to get to the next level. The vast amount of mayhem and slaughter meant it lost its impact, after a while.
LMH: Agreed. I also mentioned to GRM on one occasion (around 70% of the way in, I think) that I felt like I’d been reading the same scene over and over. One of two of the battles became quite repetitive, simply because they went on for too long.
Any other issues, AFE?
AFE: I would have liked more women. I know there’s Fi and the conveniently rare Daughters, but they did feel outnumbered by all that testosterone.
LMH: They did indeed, though what niggled at me was not so much the ratio, but the stereotypes. Two characters in particular are almost in danger of becoming caricatures. And while there’s no denying that they’re all pretty cool, I did feel like there was a bit of a distance between the characters – male as well as female – and the reader. Perhaps this is due to the head-hopping, or just the sheer number of characters, but I almost felt as if I were immersed in a film rather than a book. The whole thing felt vivid and immediate, but as if there was a thin sheet of bulletproof glass between me and events.
AFE: Agreed. I didn’t have a huge amount of emotional connection to the story. I found it fascinating and stylish and crazy and mind-blowing and funny and intriguing, but not really emotional.
And just like with Ravenmarked, I didn’t actually feel that there was a real ending to Paternus. The showdown was great, but then it felt like the author wasn’t exactly sure where to finish the book. Always a problem with a series, though!
LMH: I suppose it did sort of fizzle out towards the end. But I’m genuinely excited to see where this series goes, particularly for those characters who’re headed in their own directions.
GRM: That’s the nature of many a series. How to write an ending to book one and make people want to read on? You could watch the first Star Wars and never watch another (you’d be utterly mad though) and still feel like you’d seen an ending. It is not the same with Empire Strikes Back, you have to watch Return of the Jedi to find out what was happening. I’ve known many a series like that.
We have to wrap this up before we wax lyrical for another two thousand words. Paternus is good book that meets the original aims of the SPFBO – it is different book, a surprising book, a well-written book, and incredibly well researched book. Bar a few tiny things (and when is a book ever perfect for everyone), Paternus is an exciting book that brings new things to almost every page. It is full of ideas, action, wonderfully described settings and interesting characters.
LMH: Paternus is the only book in the competition so far that’s managed to give me goosebumps…on multiple occasions. I’ve always had a bit of an idle fascination with mythology, and recognising some legendary figure or other – often after pages of build-up – literally gave me chills. The story also made me laugh in lots of places, and while there were a couple of pacing issues (namely one or two fight scenes that outstayed their welcome) I thought Paternus was by far the strongest contender in our group.
AFE: I said when we were talking about Ravenmarked that for me, in the end, it came down to a choice between polish and style. That’s perhaps an over-simplification. But it’s certainly the case that although Paternus wasn’t the most polished entry I read in the contest, it was both the one I read fastest and the one that lingered in my head the longest afterwards. I don’t think you can ask much more from a finalist than that.
– – –
It was a close run between Paternus and Ravenmarked. Both books have so many positives that either could have won. On balance, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, and the large lady is belting out a tune, we plumped for Paternus as our winner.
Well done to Dyrk Ashton, the author, and we hope that Paternus makes a good showing as it moves forward into the final ten. We’re pretty confident the rest of the blogs will like it as much as we did.
You can read our review of the runner-up, Ravenmarked, here.
In the next round of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, each blog in the contest will read the other blogs’ winners (ten books and blogs in total). The star ratings for each books will be tallied and an overall winner chosen! You can follow along on Mark Lawrence’s blog. Also make sure you check back here for more mini-reviews from our judging team.
Good luck to the first round winners, and a great big thank you to everyone who entered!
This review was written by our judges G. R. Matthews, A.F.E. Smith, and Laura M. Hughes.