Sunset of the Gods by Steve White
Sunset of the Gods (2012) is the second novel in Steve White’s JASON THANOU (TEMPORAL REGULATORY AUTHORITY) series about time travelers who go back in time to study historical events. It would be helpful, but not necessary, to read the previous book, Blood of the Heroes, first.
This time Jason will accompany a couple of academics to witness the Battle of Marathon. There are a few historical debates about events that occurred while the Greeks were driving the Persians out of their country in 490 BC and the team hopes to settle these disputes. Both of them involve Pheidippides/Philippides, the runner who took news of the battle to Sparta. Legends suggest that he was confronted by the god Pan who later appeared during the battle and caused the Persians to “panic” and lose the war. It is also unclear whether the famous Marathon runner died during this incident.
When they arrive in Athens, Jason’s team realizes that, just like last time, there are beings from other times and spaces who are involved in this historic event. Not only is Jason’s team of time travelers in great danger but, if the events at Marathon are altered, all of Western civilization hangs in the balance.
Sunset of the Gods has the same strengths and weaknesses as its predecessor. In my review of Blood of the Heroes, I noted that the story was clever, exciting, and educational but also teachy in a clumsy way. I also pointed out the slightly sexist way that the female academic was presented (compared to the male academic) and the role she was given in the story (as a love interest instead of a scientist).
Like Blood of the Heroes, Sunset of the Gods is similarly clever and educational, and sometimes exciting, but it commits the same sins. The teachiness makes for awkward dialogue. I don’t really mind this because I like learning about the history, legends, military armor and strategies, etc., but it’s clumsy.
The sexism remains, though I’m sure it’s unintentional. For example, in the second chapter, the narrator introduces and refers to the male scholar as Dr. Bryan Landry or Landry while the female scholar is introduced and referred to as Chantal Frey or Chantal. Landry’s facial features are described while “Chantal’s” figure and level of physical attractiveness are described. To be fair, in the next few chapters Chantal is referred to as Dr. Frey in the dialogue several times until, in Chapter 5, Jason asks permission to call her by her first name, but in these introductory chapters the narrator almost always refers to her by her first name but calls her colleague by his last name, making clear that male scientists are accorded more respect, and are taken more seriously, than female scientists are. You can see this yourself by searching the first several chapters of the sample at Baen’s website. Search for each scientists’ first and last names and you’ll see the disparity.
Again, I’m sure this is unintentional on Mr. White’s part. He was born in the late 1940s and probably isn’t aware that he thinks of male and female scientists differently, but I’d expect his editor to point it out to him. I appreciate Mr. White’s efforts, though. At least he has female scientists on the team and in this second novel, we learn that one of the scientists who created the time travel device was a woman (in the previous book, no sex was applied to Dr. Fujiwara).
But then Mr. White really blows it by doing to Dr. Frey what he did to Dr. Deirdre Sadaka-Ramirez in Blood of the Heroes. We don’t get to see Dr. Frey do any science. Instead, she immediately gets captured and becomes a love interest to one the Olympians in Athens! And kind of a stupid one, at that — full on Stockholm Syndrome. It’s the exact same thing we saw in the previous book, and this is probably the most unsatisfactory aspect of Sunset of the Gods. I was disgusted by this, actually. There are other disappointingly repetitive plot elements in this novel, too.
I was planning to stop reading the JASON THANOU (TEMPORAL REGULATORY AUTHORITY) series with this book, but Tantor Audio has already sent me the new audio version of the third book, Pirates of the Timestream. I’ll give it a try and hope I like it better. The audio editions are quite good. I really like Andrew Eiden’s performance.