BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature

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Book Review: The All Father Paradox

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Title: The All Father Paradox (Vikingverse Book One)

Publisher: Outland Entertainment

Author: Ian Stuart Sharpe

Pages: 312pp

Price: $16.95 (paperback) / $7.99 (ebook)

 

For Churchwarden Michaels, it began as an ordinary day. And then the old man appeared in the graveyard and began spinning a strange tale about ancient Gods, conquerors, priestesses, witches, and scholars who had never lived. And with each tale, with each passing moment, history changed, the warp and weft of reality re-weaving into a new pattern — a pattern in which the Heathen Gods beat back Christianity, the Norse came to rule unchallenged, and humanity freely traveled the Nine Worlds ….

 

I love alternate history stories, and a tale in which polytheism triumphed over monotheism held particular appeal for me. As such, I was more than happy to review a copy of The All Father Paradox. What I was not prepared for, however, was the discovery that this is so much more than a simple alternate history.

 

Let’s get that first bit out of the way: Stuart does an excellent job of creating a believable alternate reality. The Saxon Wars of the eighth century were the break-away point, and from there things changed: sometimes subtly (polytheism remained dominant in Europe and the Norse eventually made contact with the indigenous peoples of the west) and sometimes profoundly (the Norse learned to use the greenways and “walk” between the Nine Worlds). If all you are looking for is an exciting alternate history tale, then The All Father Paradox will more than satisfy your needs.

 

But there is a lot more to the story than that. While spinning his tale, Stuart also delves into social values and caste systems, gender construction and attitudes towards sexuality, religious (in)tolerance and heresy, theocracy and the bureaucratization of religion, the truth of mythology versus the truth of history, the importance of language and poetry, the human quest of knowledge and immortality, ecology and (co)evolution and quantum entanglement, and many other heady topics. 

 

In other words, this is a book which can be read on several levels, not least because of the word games that Stuart likes the play. (Yes, character names are important and have more than one meaning. Pay attention.) I recommend that you either take it slow, or read the book straight through and then go back and re-read parts of it again to see how it all ties together.

 

Because it all does tie together; they all tie together. Churchwarden Michaels and Chandler in the graveyard; Askr and Embla at the beginning of the world; Botulfr the Black and his witch wife Ellisif; Karl Lind the naturalist (who is really a warlock-skald) and his great-granddaughter Idunn, the walker of the greenways who dares to challenge the status quo; even the power-mad Empress Trumba, so certain of victory in her final moments. They are all interconnected, past and present and future influencing one another as Odin fights to reweave the world(s).

 

I have only two complaints: the lack of a glossary, and the depiction of Norse attitudes towards homosexuality. While Stuart includes a glossary on his website, it would have been useful to include one in the book itself. I am not fluent in Norse and, while I could usually suss out the meaning of a term from the context, that was not always the case. Which ties in to my second complaint. The pre-modern Norse attitude towards homosexuality is a nuanced and complicated subject. Stuart touches on it here (for example, in references to seidhr), but it needs a deeper exploration; without that, I fear that too many readers will assume that Trumba’s rampant homophobia was/is the norm among Norse polytheists.

 

That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed The All-Father Paradox. It is a complex tale crossing multiple timelines and multiple worlds, weaving together disciplines as diverse as medieval British history, Greek Orthodox theology, arboreal evolution, and Norse poetry. Highly recommended to followers of any of the Northern Traditions, as well as lovers of science fiction and history. And I, for one, can’t wait to see what comes in the next book.

 

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.

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