2012; 366 pages. New Author? : Yes. Genre : Mythopoeia, Dimension-Hopping, Fantasy Alt History. Overall Rating : 4*/10.
Well, it’s been a bit of a jolt for Alysa and Ewan; they’ve fallen through a hole from the 21st century to some sort of 7th-century Alternate Universe, where gods and legends both big and small, seem to be running the show.
The good news is, they’re mostly Greek and Norse deities, and if you know your mythology, you’ll realize that humans were on pretty good footing with those kinds of immortals. Still, one has to wonder why Fate has brought Alysa and Ewan here, and whether they’ll ever get back home again.
And then there’s the aliens from outer space.
What’s To Like...
The Beginning of This, The End of That is an ambitious debut effort by James Matteson. Per his Amazon blurb, his primary focus is on the role of “story” (read: myths and legends) in society, and you will find all kinds of tales mashed together here. There were the Norse and Greek myths and gods, of course; but you can also see traces of Alice Through The Looking Glass, The Last of the Mohicans, and perhaps a trace of the Old Testament. One of the Gnostic greats, Marcion, shows up; and even Mithra gets some ink. Those are plusses for me.
The writing style is straightforward, and if you like chants and poems in your stories, you’ll be tickled pink here. The underlying storyline concept is original, and I liked that Alysa and Ewan had very different outlooks on life and very different natures. The world-building is ambitious, with the reader being treated to locales such as Frigga’s grove, the White City, and Tartarus (the Underworld). I wouldn’t say the Matteson's universe drew me into it, but it was adequate for the tale.
Alas, it’s all downhill from here; both the writing mechanics and the storytelling are weak, and I can see why other readers failed to make it through the book.
Mechanics. There were a lot of typos, and that became a distraction. The author claims to have written over 100 technical documents, yet doesn’t know the difference between “lightning” and “lightening”? C’mon now. I’ll look past affect/effect errors, and even hanger/hangar, but when the name of one of the characters goes from Beor to Boer, and it isn’t caught, that’s just poor editing.
Then there’s the “big word syndrome”: piceous, atramentous, apetalous, hathoritic, pantokratic, and a slew of others. They felt clunky and ill-fitting, as did the apparent need to give the Latin technical name for every piece of flora and fauna. Happily, the BWS tapered off once the story got rolling.
Storytelling. It frequently loses its focus, and that makes for a number of slow spots. A kidnapping by pirates becomes a treatise on business ethics. Five professors give us a discourse on truth. And if I want to hear a Sunday sermon, I’ll go to church.
Kewlest New Word…
Oppugn (v.) : to call into question the truth or validity of something.
Others : too many to list.
“If you are not tinkeards,” asked their host, “why then have you come to the White City?”
“We are here looking for a poet,” Ewan offered. Gunhild looked at him, disgusted.
“Well, that should be easy,” said Goggigwr, “there are very few poets left in the city.”
“Why is that?” Alysa questioned.
“They have no employers,” he responded. “If they don’t become musicians, college professors, or take religious orders, they can find no paying work.” (loc. 3196)
“So, since we parted at the Temple of the Golden Toad, what has happened to you?”
“Nothing too exotic,” Ewan said, looking down the path after Frigga. “We were lost at sea, rescued by pirates, washed ashore on the island of Aig, traveled to Spyral Castle, escaped from Hades over the Bifrost bridge.” (loc. 6421)
The Beginning of This, The End of That, Part 1: The End presently sells for $9.99 at Amazon, which seems quite steep to me. The implied sequel has apparently not been written yet, and Amazon carries no other books by James Matteson.
“What is the point of magic if it is not the force the gods themselves to do your will?” (loc. 5082)
I tried to reconcile the author’s stated purpose for this book – examining the role of story in society – with the storyline, and I finally decided that the choice of genre doomed it from the start. At first glance, fantasy would seem to be an excellent format for showcasing myths. But the problem is the readers of fantasy want an entertaining tale, not a literary exegesis. And the latter is what you get, particularly if you take the time to read the “commentator notes”.
This is all a shame, because the basic premise of The Beginning of This, The End of That is nothing short of fantastic. But the execution of that premise disappoints. I don’t know what the author’s approach was in writing this book, but I get the feeling that some beta readers and a decent editor would’ve significantly improved things.
One last thing. Although the story ends at a logical place, it is obvious, even from the title (“Part 1”), that a sequel was planned. It’s been almost four years since TBoT,TEoT-Part1:TE was published; it seems safe to assume a sequel will not be forthcoming. Which means there really isn’t much point in reading Book One.
4 Stars. Add 1 Star if a sequel should ever be published; add another 1 Star if this book undergoes some major rewriting. The storyline is so fascinatingly engaging that if it ever got more emphasis than the technical considerations, this could be the start of a fine series.