My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In The Chosen One Ms. Erishkigal sets a compelling plot within a fascinating universe. Her characters are well defined, and the premise she presents is thought provoking. In the tradition of all good science fiction, this is a “what if…” story. What if the Angels and Demons of Christian mythology were actually space aliens? Or, even better, genetically engineered space aliens. Or, better still, genetically engineered space aliens whose DNA is a mix of human and animal. And, the humans of Earth are the last ones in the galaxy. It is also a gripping political thriller and a touching romance. Unfortunately, this otherwise excellent effort is marred by a distinct lack of polish.
From the first paragraph of the Prologue the reader is caught up in the conflict between the Eternal Emperor and his ancient Adversary. We quickly shift perspectives to the cockpit of a spaceship which has crash landed in the Mesopotamian region of Earth during the year 3390 BC. The story then proceeds to jump back and forth between the political intrigues of galaxy-spanning empires and the more personal struggles of the wounded pilot of that spaceship and the Neolithic humans who heal him and welcome him into their lives. The interweaving of these two stories carry the reader on a path filled with interesting characters, subtle mysteries and sometimes heart wrenching pathos. This book would definitely deserve five stars if the author gave it another pass or two with an editor.
Ms. Erishkigal’s cosmology is, for this reviewer, the most fascinating aspect of this saga. She begins with the Ascended Beings, especially the Eternal Emperor, Hashem, and his adversary, Shay’tan, who each rule over vast empires that span most of the Milky Way Galaxy. In their millenia-long contest for dominance of this galaxy each relies on armies comprised of specially dedicated races. The Sata’anic Empire’s warriors are a sentient reptilian species that emerged 74,000 years prior to the events of the book. To defend his Galactic Alliance from the Sata’anic Empire, the Eternal Emperor has created four genetically enhanced species, the Angelics, the Leonids, the Centauri and the Merfolk. Hashem created these races by combining the DNA of Humans with that of eagles, lions, horses and dolphins respectively. Unfortunately, due to inbreeding to maintain desired though recessive traits and the attrition of near continuous war these races are dying out. The last known home world of the human root species was destroyed thousands of years ago and with it the solution to the hybrids’ dilemma was lost. Or was it?
In the Mesopotamian region of Earth during the year 3390 BC an Angelic Air Force Colonel named Mikhail Mannuki’ili has crashed his scout ship while on a covert mission. As a result of his injuries he has no recollection of the mission or his life prior to the crash. He is nursed to health by Ninsianna, a woman of uncommon beauty and with a unique personal connection to the goddess known simply as She-Who-Is. Mikhail eventually becomes part of the nearby Ubaid tribe who view him as a prophesied winged savior.
One can probably guess where this is all going. Hashem and Shay’tan are stand-ins for the Christian Deity and His Eternal Adversary. Mikhail is this story’s stand in for Michael the Arch-Angel. Other similar parallels are seen throughout the book. There are elements of pre-historic Near East shamanic mysticism woven within the framework as well. In this way, Ms. Erishkigal explores primitive faith as well as the nature of myth and legend. The clash of galactic empires serves as a backdrop within which questions of how necessity rather than morality often determines what is good and what is evil.
Despite all of this, however, one might wish the author had taken more care in her craft. As is often the case with self-published or independently published works, Sword of the Gods is in need of some editorial polishing. I noted at least 50 grammatical or spelling missteps, but beyond that there was a certain lack of verisimilitude that detracted from an otherwise delightful read. For instance, early in the story the central human woman, Ninsianna, uses the word “rubinesque” to describe another member of the tribe. It just threw me out of the story. Besides being misspelled, Rubens would not paint his famous nudes from which this term derives for several thousand years after the setting. She could have used the term “curvy” just as easily. At several points the native Ubaid people speak, and think, more like 21st Century Americans. It simply grated a bit to hear the word “technology” coming from the Ubaid Chief’s mouth. Or the phrase “fade into the woodwork” used to describe one character’s ability to seemingly disappear into thin air. Would a culture that builds its homes from mud bricks really use that phrase? The most egregious example of this sort of anachronism came at what was meant to be the culmination of the romantic sub-plot and really broke me out of the scene. I understand wanting to make the dialog and self-talk seem relateable and understandable to the reader, but there are ways to do this which would have deepened and enriched the sense of a distinct, distant culture (in both time and place) rather than making it feel more like a cheap TV drama that could have taken place anywhere.
Even with this need for further refinement, I still found Sword of the Gods worth the read. I even picked up the sequel, Prince of Tyre, to see where the story goes from here.