When I reviewed Seasons of the Fool by Lynne Cantwell on Amazon and Goodreads, she asked me if I wanted an autographed print copy. Since my space for print format books is extremely limited, I declined. Instead I accepted a free digital copy of The Pipe Woman Chronicles Omnibus for review. After finishing it, I realized that I had some observations to make about the books in this series that were worth a blog entry.
The central character of this series is lawyer Naomi Witherspoon whose practice focuses on mediation. Naomi is a very likeable lawyer. She loves to help people and wants all parties in a case to benefit. Mediation is more compatible with Naomi's ethos than litigation where there are always winners and losers.
As the series opens with Seized, Naomi is a mediator for a corporate law firm in Denver. Her life changes drastically after she attends a sweat lodge run by Ute medicine man Looks Far Guzman. Looks Far is a remarkably eccentric character who I found delightful, and he has an enduring connection with Naomi.
Unfortunately, there was an element in the sweat lodge ceremony which was portrayed inaccurately. I did suspect that Cantwell might have thought that her readers would be uncomfortable with a more authentic description. Yet later in Annealed Book #5, she didn't flinch from portraying a traditional Lakota Sun Dance which would definitely make New Age readers uneasy. So I'm not entirely certain why she sanitized a practice of the Native American Church in Seized.
I found what I consider to be errors in portraying figures from Scandinavian mythology throughout this series. I think the fundamental misconception on which many of these errors are based is the idea that there is only one Scandinavian pantheon. There are actually two pantheons. One is the Aesir of Asgard headed by Odin, and the other is the Vanir of Vanaheim headed by Njord. These two pantheons have made an agreement, and have become allies. There are also the Jotuns who are primordial beings that pre-exist both of these pantheons. In English, Jotun is translated as giant. The Jotuns will be the opponents of the Aesir at Ragnarok which is the Scandinavian apocalyptic struggle. Loki is a Jotun. He is not part of Odin's family of deities. Odin is called the All Father because he is the creator of humanity. He didn't create all the other Scandinavian Gods. In fact, Odin himself had parents.
The Vanir are never even mentioned in these books. This became particularly problematic in Tapped Book #3 when Cantwell needed to find a Scandinavian God who might be responsible for an agricultural experiment and picks the wrong one. You see, Freyr of the Vanir is the God of agriculture. It's probably just as well because this agricultural experiment was extremely misguided. After millennia of experience, Freyr would know better than to be involved in it. Human corporations have a record for engaging in these sorts of shenanigans. Why blame it on a God? Yes, it's true that the God that Cantwell chose corrected his mistakes in Tapped, but I find it hard to believe that he would have made such a mess in the first place. This is a God who is known for being clear-sighted.
I would have expected to see Freyr at the crucial culminating mediation between Gods in Annealed because Freyr is also the Scandinavian God of peace. Since Freyr loves peace, he would have very much wanted to represent his pantheon at that mediation.
My favorite book in this series was Gravid which is Book #4. Cantwell is at her best when she is dealing with family, friendships and the spiritual commitments of mortals. I also liked the way Cantwell deals with both inner conflicts and interpersonal conflicts. She understands human beings far better than Gods. The character dynamics in Gravid were wonderful. I loved the introduction of the journalist, Antonia, who is associated with the Greco-Roman pantheon. Antonia is a strong woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. This is also the only book in this series where I thought that all the spiritual/mythical content was well-handled.
I was ambivalent about the resolution in Annealed. I enjoyed Cantwell's portrayal of Jesus. I liked the fact that a positive resolution in the mediation between the Gods was reached. Yet it seemed like complex world problems that should each have required separate mediations were being resolved too simply. I don't think all the stakeholder perspectives were being considered in the Middle East, for example. When the boundary lines were drawn, how was the problem of fair access to Jerusalem holy sites by all the Abrahamic faiths resolved?
After the text of all the novels in The Pipe Woman Chronicles Omnibus concludes, Cantwell reveals that there will be a new trilogy that is a continuation of this one called Land,Sea,Sky and provides an excerpt of the first one. It is my hope that she will continue to deal with the problems of complex human characters, their relationships, their spirituality and their paranormal gifts. If she does bring the Gods and mythology into her work, I hope that she consults multiple sources about them. Having a more complete picture will improve her portrayals of divine beings and mythological figures.