Rise of Gods is brimming with characters. When we first meet the two main characters, Zeke and Fiona, there is already a little history between them. They are both young and awkward and their romance is predictable but still fun to watch unfold to the backdrop of the mythological madness that surrounds them. I admit I struggled to connect with either until near the end of the novel, even as we learn that their connection to events is far deeper than initially thought. It is the mythological characters that shine here. There are a ton of them, drawn from various cultures and religions and brought to life by Ashton with cleverness and care. Ashton makes many of these characters his own with unique twists on their myths (with some connected to a multitude of myths), appealing personalities and creative descriptions. Some standouts include: a big bear with a big sword, a metalsmith rhino that happened to make a certain Norse weapon, a not-so-angry bull, a certain fallen angel and an intelligent goat. I do not want to give away too much as part of the appeal of the book is in meeting each of these mythological beings and exploring their roles in history and the plot.
The majority of Rise of Gods takes place in and around Toledo, Ohio, but there are far more places we get to visit, from the deep jungles of the Amazon to the Pontic Mountains of Anatolia to the Mendip Hills and midnight skies of England. Ashton brings each of these places to life in great detail, exploring both their histories and connections to the gods that still walk (and fly) them. There are also alternative realms and realities that we briefly 'slip' between throughout the novel and there are hints that some gods may have made their homes beyond earth. All in all, it felt like we have only scratched the surface of what Ashton's imaginative world has to offer and I look forward to seeing where he takes us in subsequent books.
It would be rude of me not to comment on Ashton's writing style. To say it is a little unorthodox is a bit of an understatement. It is very different to what you would expect from a debut book, at times reading like a movie script with a frame by frame breakdown of the action, packed with large info-dumps and written in third person omniscient. In normal circumstances, each of these would be heavily frowned upon, especially for a debut and I admit I found it a little hard to adjust initially. However, by the halfway point I found myself loving the cinematic style to action, happily going to the internet to learn more about mythology and used to the head-hopping. By the end, I felt Ashton had struck a good balance of all three to provide a unique reading experience.
I had always considered myself a historian (heck, I am a History teacher) with a broad enough knowledge of mythology. Then Ashton came along, flexing his mythological muscles, and put me to absolute shame. His knowledge seems endless, and he has inspired me to broaden my historical and mythological reading even more so. One thing that pleasantly surprised me was the focus on the fabled High King of Ireland, Brian Boru, and the heavily debated Battle of Clontarf. Not only have I walked the battlefield, but my family name derives from said king. This random connection to the novel delighted me and I found myself listening to Brian Boru's March while writing this review. For those who have read the book, you will understand why.
All in all, this is a great fun read unlike anything I have experienced in recent years. I love when authors bend the rules and this is a true breath of fresh air. The ending leaves off in a fitting place. We have witnessed the opening moves in the war of gods and I cannot wait to see what happens next.
4 / 5