Athanasios takes a lot of risks in the construction of Mad Gods
; some of those risks pan out beautifully and some sort of fizzle (especially in the second half). Mad Gods
is a synthesis of cult favorites, seamlessly invoking and intertwining Dan Brown, Stephen King and William Blatty along with a ridiculously prolific knowledge of American popular culture from the 1960s and just about every conspiracy theory with any staying power from the time of the Crusades to the present. The story follows the prophesied birth of the anti-Christ in the form of a small child named Adam in Argentina and the web of individuals, from shadowy Knights Templar to zealous Luciferians in their attempts to capture the child and use him for their purposes. Guarding the child is a relic of the past, Kostadino Paleologos, a reluctant hero and a descendent of the rulers of ancient Constantinople before its fall into Muslim hands. Mad Gods
encompasses centuries of history and is a clever and plausible revision to commonly accepted Church history in the West. Along the way there's magic, lost tomes and dusty libraries as well as action-packed bursts of good versus evil that put many action writers to shame.
Indulgent and overly explicatory, Mad Gods
ultimately spends too much time forcibly connecting the dots between disparate historical events and trying far too hard to make everything fit into the narrative from the Kennedy assassination to the popular false-pope conspiracies of John VI. The novel begins as a historical thriller, and the first half is a taut and purposeful page-turner with interesting mysteries and sound historical contextualization - Indiana Jones meets Robert Langdon in a near-Eastern hero who is enigmatic and complicated. Kostadino is chased by Vatican assassins and directed by ghosts to ancient libraries that reveal lost aspects of history that are thought-provoking and ripe for literary exploitation. (The emphasis on the fall of Constantinople and the Fourth Crusade was especially appealing to me; as a historian who wrote several papers on the subject, I was pleased by the level of scholarship and the depth of the narrative.) Herein lies the weakness of Mad Gods
, however. In the first half, Athanasios manages the delicate balance between driving the plot forward and back-building, with the explication serving to give depth to the action and his main character. In the second half, the balance is lost. There are simply too many plot-lines to follow - each with their own massive depth of historical context to delve into, which simply distracts from the present plot. The tension of the deadly game of hide-and-seek Kosta and Adam are playing with the various forces looking for them is lost between chapters of explication and backgrounding for characters who, in the end, didn't really matter all that much and ended up being replaced by a "new" shadow organization in the Black Nobility, who become the driving force of much of the plot only in the last quarter of the book. Don't get me wrong, the sudden puppet master twist can work well in books of this kind, but in this case the many factions are so sub-factionalized you risk losing the reader and the labyrinthine connections and double crosses. When the narrative finally does return to Adam and Kosta, it feels like it's done mostly out of a sense of duty, or an afterthought, catching the reader up to events that have been happening with this central pair of characters while the narrative was busy focused on developing conspiracy theories and in those intervals the author seems to be stuck on a stroll down memory lane, with accountings of whatever music or movies happened to come out in that year taking up 80% of the narrative on this much-neglected track. Mad Gods
does present several very compelling and original ideas and, unlike most works in the genre, has some pretty darn amazing prose to back it up. Athanasios paints beautiful pictures, develops interesting characters, and makes oblique historical references interesting and entertaining, but there's just too much there for one book to stay focused and on-point. There's tremendous potential here, and Athanasios is definitely someone to watch for in the future. I have the feeling a good editor could get the second half to focus as well as the first, which would make for a page-turning, but shorter first volume. Some of the tangential stories are interesting in their own right, but perhaps could be part of a companion volume of short stories that fill in gaps in the main narrative for die-hard fans who want to know all the intricacies worked out in the author's mind.