The Antithesis by Terra Whiteman

Title: The Antithesis
Author: Terra Whiteman
Published: July 2011 by 1889 Labs
Genre:  cross-genre/genre mash-up that includes mythology, fantasy, science fiction, court drama
Source: eBook received from author for review
My Rating: 6/10

Alezair is a super-human soldier from the Nexus, available for hire to powerful beings in the collection of parallel universes known as the Multiverse. While on a mission Alezair is attacked, nearly killed and later recruited by a beautiful girl named Leid (pronounced ‘lied’). She takes him to her home in Purgatory, and makes him a member of the Jury, a tiny governing body that oversees the Eternal War between Heaven and Hell.

Alezair is transformed into an even more powerful, near-immortal being called a Vel’Haru. For over a century Leid trains him to be a Judge, whose duties not only include presiding over the legal cases of Archaeans (angels) and the Fallen (demons), but travelling within the Multiverse and executing beings who are in violation of the Code. According to the Code, Celestials are forbidden from directly influencing their creations in a bid to win their souls. This includes things like “demon possession, and even that stunt Heaven pulled with Jesus Christ”.

But Son-of-God stunts aside, Hell has a huge lead on Heaven in terms of soul points, even without Code-violations. Sinful things just tend to be instinctual and neither the threat of eternal suffering or the promise of eternal bliss has proven particularly persuasive. So when lesser demons start committing a few suspicious Code violations, Heaven tries to use it to their advantage in Court, proposing a new law that will have a drastic effect on the Eternal War. Alezair finds himself caught up in a tumultuous time, and he hasn’t even finished his training. He’s also plagued by an attraction to Leid that suggests they once had an intimate relationship. However, she only ever treats him with cool, efficient indifference, revealing nothing about herself, or the history of how the Vel’Haru ended up in Purgatory.

This is a difficult book for me to rate and review, because I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Firstly, there’s a lot of information and characters to keep track of, and since I have a tendency to read several books at the same time, I didn’t give this as much focus as I should have. I also think that in general, it’s a bit confusing, so on the whole I feel like I didn’t get as strong a grasp on it as I would prefer.

The story unfolds through multiple worlds – it begins in Jerusalem in 1180 AD, the characters time-travel to Japan in 1560 AD, and then to the 20th or 21st century. From there Alezair is transported to Purgatory, where most of the scenes are set, but there are also scenes in heaven, hell, and a few other worlds in the Multiverse.

Whiteman has reconfigured Heaven and Hell to suit the parallel dimensions of the Multiverse. Heaven and Hell have influence over some of these worlds, collectively known as the Atrium. What’s more interesting is that she’s also rewritten Christian mythology about the two realms and The Fall, combining religion and mythology with politics and biology. Although Leid and the other Vel’Haru look human, the concept of the species is based on on ants (as the author explains in her notes at the end of the novel) with whom they share traits like having a Queen who is the only reproducing female in the population. Genetics plays an important role in the Eternal War, which began because of the racism of the angels, who discriminated against and enslaved the demons. The angels, notably, look very Aryan. I won’t reveal more details of the rewrite, for fear of spoiling the book, but what I like about it is its moral ambiguity. Heaven and Hell, angels and demons can’t be categorised as good and evil. If anything you’re much more likely to sympathise with the demons, in the same way that you would sympathise with Satan as he’s portrayed in Paradise Lost.

What I didn’t like about the rewrite was how much Heaven, Hell, Purgatory and the angels, demons and Judges so closely resemble our world and humans. They do things like wear human clothes (shirts and ties, jeans and T-shirts, high heels, etc.) although in some cases (demons in particular) the outfits are a bit more outrageous. They all look human, and have human occupations such as drinking wine and smoking cigarettes, throwing a house party, directing a play, going to work in a car, taking a walk in a park and buying a drink from a vendor.

Which brings me back to my original problem – I don’t quite know what to make of this. I think it could have been much more inventive, but nevertheless it didn’t bother me too much. Maybe I was in a good mood, because some of the more ludicrous things, like an Archdemon describing himself as “a complete cheerleader for Team Hell” seemed really funny at the time, rather than totally stupid. You could also argue that the Celestials being so much like humans emphasises their flaws and makes it easier to understand their behaviour.

You see them all through Alezair’s eyes, and not for a moment does he revere any of them, with the possible exception of God and Lucifer. He scoffs at them, looks down on them, makes fun of them, gets frustrated by their many imperfections. Alezair himself is a deeply flawed character. He’s cocky, temperamental, and undisciplined, with a tendency to handle difficult situations with shouting and violence. He also develops a pretty serious drinking problem in response to the stress of his training. I didn’t like him that much, but I nevertheless shared some of his frustrations, and this helped me empathise with him. Leid, Adrial and Zhevraine keep a lot of important information from him. They do so because there are unpleasant things they just don’t want to talk about, but I also think that the author keeps them silent because she’s trying to maintain the mystery of why Leid seems so familiar and so attractive to Alezair, not the mention the presumably catastrophic events that put the Vel’Haru in Purgatory.

It’s fine at first but can get quite irritating. It’s some time before the puzzle pieces start to fall into place, and be warned that you won’t get all of them in this book. The Antithesis is the first in a series, and at the end it doesn’t just hint at a sequel; it requires one.  Although some secrets are revealed, nothing is resolved and new conflicts arise. Towards the end the structure of the book changes completely, switching from Alezair’s perspective to chapters from the perspectives of some of the major characters, revealing what happened in the past, or during the other events of the novel. It leaves you with many questions and dizzying cliffhangers.

So what do I make of it? I still don’t quite know. On the one, somewhat objective hand, I feel like I shouldn’t like this book because of the things that bugged me. It’s too long, the writing can be… odd (eyebrows are “lofted”, eyes “soar” in all directions), I don’t think the characters should be wearing jeans or having coffee and danishes for breakfast, and I’d appreciate it if Alezair didn’t always act like an arrogant jock. On the other, subjective hand, I have to admit that I had a fairly good time reading The Antithesis. I love mythology, the Eternal War is quite entertaining, the portrayal of the Celestials and their realms wasn’t great but at least it was funny sometimes, there’s plenty of cool action, and I always appreciate a good dig at the false dichotomies of religion.

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