PANTHEONS by E.J. Dabel
Sea Lion Books, 2012, 571 pages, 9780983613176, Kindle Edition, $1.99
E. J. Dabel’s Pantheons is an adventure story of epic proportions. It is set in an alternate-reality Earth populated by nearly every pantheon of gods known to the ancient world. Their actions are directed by an unseen and mysterious force referred to only as the “Powers-that-be.” These powers command the pantheons to wage war on each other once a century. The winner of each war is given The Dominion, a divine right that allows the wielder to rule the Earth for a thousand years. The book is set in what appears as modern times to mortals but, to the gods, is the middle of the Fourth Age. For reasons known only to the Powers-that-be, the gods have been stripped of their immortal bodies and given weaker, mortal, teenage bodies. For the first time in history, the gods can die.
The story is centered around fifteen-year-old orphan Isaiah Marshall, leader of the street gang the Redrovers and, unbeknownst to him, the illegitimate son of the Chief-God of the Greek pantheon, Zeus. The reader follows Isaiah as he learns of his divine powers and uncovers the murderous secrets surrounding his past. Personally, I found Isaiah to be one of the most interesting and dynamic characters I have read about. He balances his life leading a street gang with his strong inner sense of what is right and what is wrong; he does not hit women, steal, or damage personal property. He is a gang leader who holds himself to chivalric standards. Isaiah is plagued throughout the book by a speech impediment, another unique aspect to his character that I have not seen in other novels. Part of his personal growth during the course of the story is to overcome this difficulty and embrace who he is, both as a human and as a god. Upon accepting his status as a god, Isaiah is swept into a world of trickery, deceit, and divine vengeance, where every god is a player, and the prize is a thousand years of supreme dominance.
Two of the more notable pantheons to appear in the book are the Greek pantheon led by Zeus and the Norse pantheon led by Odin. More obscure Gods such as the Babylonian Ishtar, the Aztec Tlazolteotl, and the Native American shaman Yanauluha are also major players in the story. As a student interested in the study of classical civilizations, I was excited to see these “forgotten gods” make an appearance. Dabel’s inclusion of these deities was an original and powerful addition to the story. His storyline contains elements of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, but Dabel puts his own unique twist on the story, making it diverse enough to create its own niche in the world of fantasy fiction.
For all the positives to the story, there were a few aspects I found disappointing, the most noticeable being the author’s occasional hurry to advance the story from one major event to the next. Some parts had me reeling, trying to keep up with the rapid pace. This is a good thing in some areas of a novel, but slowing down to allow characters, as well as events, to fully develop is an important factor in any story. While some parts were masterfully developed and effectively played out, others were rushed, and I found myself questioning the believability of characters’ actions. Thankfully, this trend did not continue for the entirety of the story, and Dabel quickly had me wrapped back up in plot twists and intrigue.
Dabel raises some very intriguing themes in his story, such as what it means to be human. This theme fits exceptionally well within the framework of a main character having to choose between his divine and mortal sides. It is even more appropriate when Dabel introduces the character Sam, an automaton given life by the Smith-God Ilmarinen. Sam is so expertly crafted that she emulates a living organism in nearly every way. For the duration of the story she is torn by the desire to be alive and the impossibility of that desire. This subplot led me to question what is it to be alive and created intriguing metaphysical undertones in the text. I only wish this subplot had been more heavily emphasized, as I feel its development would have enriched the story further.
Readers who are fans of classical mythology will find this book to be an adventure straight from the ancient world. Pantheons is reminiscent of similar series from this genre, but different enough to stand proudly in the realm of fantasy fiction. The book’s dramatic conclusion left me thirsting for more, curious as to how the next chapter in this epic would unfold. Pantheons is a creative and unique adventure that will whisk the reader away, beyond the realm of mortals and into the world of the gods.
Thank you to Sea Lion Books for providing a review copy of this novel.