Terry Pratchett and Niel Gaiman have undoubtedly changed the way people look at fantasy novels. They have added the element of the irreverent and the humorous while still very much taking the genre seriously. (Most of the time.) As such, they have inspired a whole slew of writers to look at the world in a different way. The result? You get books like Eric Nierstedt’s Silent Pantheon, one of the best books I read this year.
In a similar vein to Niel Gaiman’s American Gods, Eric Nierstedt’s book Silent Pantheon follows five deities of somewhat-forgotten religions and mythologies who have ended up in New York City, doing their jobs to the best of their ability in the modern world. There is Balder, the Norse god of Light, Beauty and Resurrection—who also happens to have some serious inability to get hurt and an aversion to mistletoe—who works as an EMT. Coyote, the Navajo trickster god of chaos and the rains, is a public defender. Anubis, the Ancient Egyptian god of embalming and the dead is working at a funeral home as a mortician. Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and honourable war, is a philosophy teacher at a university. And Kali, the Hindu destroying mother, who is a child counsellor. Each of these gods has been “deposed” by Yahweh, excepting Kali’s case where she split herself from the part that watches the universe, due to the historical spread of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. However, these five gods were offered deals to keep working at their jobs, only without recognition. Once a month, they meet up and gripe to one another about this new life. After that, they report to the angel Joshua about following the rules. Life, it seems, is fairly normal. Until it isn’t.
Now, these five must face off with the end of the world and save humanity. Or we’re all snookered.
This book does really well in describing the mythology and ideology surrounding these deities without turning into a pedantic history lesson. The original characteristics of these gods is woven through their interactions with others and their daily lives pretending to be mortals amongst us mundanes. I really managed to get a sense of the original ideas of these gods and it was great to learn. I’m familiar with all of them in some form or another, except Kali-Ma, but it was really great to get reacquainted with them in the context of the modern world. They are well researched and integrated into our society flawlessly.
I also quite liked the way that this book dealt with the concept of Yahweh. Technically speaking, Yahweh was meant to be the “bad guy”. But, again, Nierstedt managed to integrate the historical reality and the ideology within the religion in such a way that it felt like the enormously complex issue that it was. Nierstedt did not go on a rant about how bad Yahweh is, or how good. It just was. In this day and age of polarisation, it was really nice to see a well-researched and well-thought out middle ground that was more than just a minor part of the story. Integrating this with the other “forgotten” deities was very well done and enjoyable to read throughout the entire piece.
Now, let’s get into the ending. I can’t say much, because that requires huge amounts of spoilers. I can say that the world doesn’t end—it never does in these stories—and that they way in which the world did not end was a great surprise. I really liked how everything that had happened to that point was woven together and important. There were surprises that I did not expect at all but which were executed in such a way that fit with the story. I did want to strangle Jane (one of the secondary characters) a bit, but I suppose it turned out alright. The epilogue—golly, I hope there’s a sequel because that epilogue had me sitting straight up, nearly shouting. Seriously?! Anyways, the epilogue was really good, too.
My main critique for the book is that there were a few minor line edit issues that popped up now and again. I think they could easily be fixed with a very close read through and they were minor enough that I wouldn’t even bother with most of it. However, they did knock me out of the story on occasion, which was a shame because the rest of the book was so good. On the whole, though, I think those issues were really minor.
Silent Pantheon is one of those books that you can go back to again and again and find new things to appreciate and enjoy. It is very much in the vein of Terry Pratchett and Niel Gaiman, though perhaps not quite as irreverent as Good Omens. Still, it is huge amounts of fun, trouble, and research all thrown together in a pot and served up hot. I would highly recommend this book. It definitely made the list of best books that I have read in 2019. Then again, any modern book that deals with Coyote as a featured character is going to be fun.