Genre: Myth and legend
Description: the author says this book “combines mythology with science fiction and slipstream fantasy in a strange and introspective way”.
This is the first book in a tetralogy. Susana Imaginário wrote all four as a single 300,000+ word novel, then took pity on readers and cut the result up into more manageable chunks (and added quite a few more chunks in the process). She has cherry-picked two major, ancient pantheons and set them against each other: the Aesir (Norse) and the Olympians (Greek) are now in competition for worlds and worshippers after The Merge.
The Aesir and the Olympians seem to know surprisingly little about other religions. Kali is mentioned, but the rest of the Hindu gods don’t get a look-in. A stray Egyptian goddess turns up, who nobody apparently recognises. Buddhism and the Abrahamic religions do not feature.
There are suggestions that the two featured pantheons need to co-operate to avoid being subsumed by Chronos, the Greco-Roman, primal god of Time. This they find difficult. Gaea, the ancient mother goddess of all life, has got herself into a bit of a pickle with Chronos. She has been playing politics and things have gotten out of hand: the Underworld has gone missing.
The central character is Psyche, a human elevated to become the goddess of the soul. However, she has transgressed against the gods, been cursed, and imprisoned (as a wyrd god) inside the mind of a dryad called Ileanna. (Keeping up with all this does take considerable concentration.)
Author: Susana Imaginário describes herself as “a misfit from Portugal”. She says of her tetralogy, “what started as an exercise to improve my English ended in the realisation of a twenty-year-old dream.”
She moved to England to pursue a career as an aerialist and now runs a Tabletop Gaming retreat in Ireland with her husband. Her hobbies include reading, playing board games, hanging upside down, poking around ancient ruins, talking to trees and being tired. She loves a good story, and claims not to talk much.
Appraisal: This is a complex book. This first volume is just the tip of its iceberg. The action gallops along in short chapters. These are from a variety of different viewpoints: the Wyrd/Psyche/Ileana; Gaea; Chronos; Ideth (another dryad who Chiron the centaur calls ‘unbridled one’ for reasons still unclear to me); Chiron himself; another confined Wyrd God who is actually Odin; Loki, freshly broken out of Hades’ (now missing) realm; Hel (Loki’s daughter); a ‘Dharkan’ (a sexy, icy assassin); Seshat, the Egyptian goddess of writing; Iosh, a k a Judoc, a local lothario cum priest; and Arianh, a human queen. There may be a couple of others I’ve forgotten. It is a LOT of narrators. As the jump into a new narrator at the beginning of the chapter isn’t signposted for the reader, it means a couple of paragraphs of floundering before one establishes whose head we are in now. The author could have been kinder to her readers in this regard.
If you enjoy the sort of complex use of characters, pantheons and world building you encounter in works by eg Tolkien and George RR Martin then, although this first book is pretty baggy, you will like it a lot – providing you can keep who is doing what to whom straight in your head. The beings to whom we are introduced in this first volume are very entertaining. The tone is witty and light. (And the Dharkan is very sexy indeed.)
No huge amount of progress towards whatever the over-arching goal of the four books is has been achieved by the end of this first one. Imaginário asks, in her author’s note, for patience from her readers and promises everything will make sense in the end.
If you like to be warned about this sort of thing, there are some (mainly light-hearted) F-bombs.
*** Review originally prepared for Big Al and Pals review website, received a complimentary soft copy for an honest review ***