Eric Syrdal’s Pantheon takes readers on an epic journey through time, space and emotion
As a keen reader of sci-fi and fantasy novels, I was very impressed by Eric Syrdal’s Pantheon. For me, the title alone recalled deities of myth, promised encounters with larger-than-life heroes, and set up an expectation of sweeping verse. Syrdal, a self-proclaimed romantic and sci-fi and fantasy enthusiast, does not disappoint: He deftly weaves a tale of adventure, his protagonists crossing paths with virtuous Goddesses, who coax them toward their destinies.
As I read the first section, I worried that Pantheon was a little too heavy on the usual themes of fantasy and fairy tale: Warhorses champing at the bit, armored fighters, swords at the ready, the proverbial dragon looming over the embattled heroic Poet. Despite this, I continued on and was glad I did, for Syrdal quickly demonstrates that his story stands apart from and above the typical. With Courage and the Queen of Hearts at his side, and Hope, Grace, Mercy, Karma and Fate in the shadows, the Poet must make a pivotal decision. His choice at that critical moment is masterfully mirrored in the subsequent sections of the book, and I marveled time and again at the way Syrdal coherently connected his multiple story lines, the seams necessarily apparent but still flawless.
Soon enough I saw and admired the Poet for what he was: a part of the human soul that comprehends the complicated relationship between suffering and joy; perhaps he is a reflection of Syrdal himself? I cheered on the heroine, who takes the form of a talented cellist struggling with depression, an AI computer system designed to keep a deep-space traveler alive, the immortal and vengeful Daughter of the Phoenix. In every incarnation, she engages in a struggle with fear and desire to realize her role in the workings of the universe.
I began to anticipate the arrival of the Goddesses, to appreciate their place in Syrdal’s cosmos, which spans time and space and delves deep into the human soul. My three favorite sections of the volume, “Amor Vincit Omnia,” “Time and Again,” and “Lightspeed” occupy these dimensions beautifully. “Amor Vincit Omnia,” the kernel of the novel, takes us to the mythical halls of the Goddesses and their sister-liege the Queen of Hearts, but also paints the earthly encounters between Fate and her most admired hero. There is the presentation of the age-old question, “Love Conquers All/Is that phrase true?” The answer is given through the rendering of Fate’s essence. Syrdal refines that essence and extracts it via her interactions with the Queen of Hearts:
When the talk
moved back to
the importance of
her resolve shattered
into a million teardrops
And this pain is multiplied within “Time and Again,” as the Poet is jettisoned from existence to existence, just so that he can fulfill a freeing, but horrifically soul-crushing directive. At the culmination of each experience, he pleads with Mercy. The reverberations of her pitying refrain “Not today, Love,” are heard as well in “Lightspeed,” a space operetta in which time and the chasm between human and artificial intelligence are, paradoxically, the hindrances to and the impetuses for love’s expression.
Ever wary of revealing an ending, I will still give you this: Pantheon finishes as epically as it began. All along, the Queen of Hearts and her sisters have artfully molded their heroes’ journeys, bringing them back to central truths about life and love. Should you read this book (and you should!), I trust that the imagery of that final section will be long lasting in your mind, along with a sense of awe at Syrdal’s beautifully written verse and sense of literary craftsmanship.
Mariah Voutilainen is an aspiring writer who enjoys reading sci-fi/fantasy, flash fiction, and poetry of the medium-dark and romantic varieties. She marvels at the beauty of everyday life in the Pacific Northwest. Her ruminations on all manner of things can be found on her blog, (re)imagining the mundane.