Must read of the week: The end of paradise by Carl Borgen
Debut novel The End of Paradise by Carl Borgen provides a gripping race-against-time adventure inspired by one of the world’s most curious and colourful creation myths: the Bock Saga.
By Gwyneth Rees
New young adult fantasy adventure The End Of Paradise by Carl Borgen is an unforgettable novel based within and inspired by the Bock Saga.
For those who don't know, the Bock Saga is an alternative creation myth that came to light in the 1980s but which is said to date back to the very dawn of humanity, to an era when mankind existed harmoniously.
According to this myth—revealed to the world by the Finnish mystic Ior Bock, who claimed to be the last in a long family line of custodians who had passed down the Saga orally between generations—this enviable period was known as the “Paradise Time” and lasted for millennia.
All good things must, however, come to an end and for the first civilisation as described by the Saga, the Aser, this came in cataclysmic fashion.
The End of Paradise by the world’s leading Bock Saga historian, Carl Borgen, draws upon the rich narrative of the Saga to recount this dramatic collapse, being the first novel based on the Saga and the ideal introduction to it.
To set the scene, we find ourselves at the heart of the Aser civilisation, which is spread across the planet in a series of self-contained ‘Ringlands’.
At this time, the Earth’s axis was different to what it is today and, as such, the principle Ringland, Odenma, enjoys a sub-tropical climate with lush vegetation despite being situation in the North Pole.
We get to experience this colourful, absorbing world through a small band of winsome characters, beginning with a heated conversation between Morgan and his brother, Mordred, Morgan’s daughters Zinnia and Aika, and their pretentious friend, KK.
Sitting aloft a giant oak tree, they have a fierce exchange about one’s place in society. For while the many negative trappings of the modern world, such as war and famine, are unknown in this more innocent time, social hierarchy is certainly present, with the living god, the Allfather, and royalty at the top.
KK is of a higher caste than the rest, being a Jarl, while the brothers are both Trel, and in the Aser society are not allowed by law to have children. That, however, didn’t stop the free-thinker Morgan, though his defiance of the old ways has upset many, who fear that his two ‘soulless’ daughters will anger the gods and bring doom upon them all.
Zinnia and Aika, having inherited their father’s forthright views, are having none of this, believing they have just as much right as any in Aser society to prove themselves worthy of respect and privilege. However, they don’t appreciate at that moment how soon they will get to test their assertion.
For while the gods may not have been upset by their existence, the land of Odenma is indeed doomed. Our soon-to-heroes are unaware that the series of unprecedented earthquakes that have cut off links between Rodemia, the centre of Odenma, and all other territories, are due to the Earth’s axis beginning to shift.
In in its wake will soon follow an environmental disaster of the greatest order: a new ice age that cannot be halted.
Characteristically of Morgan, who is as inventive as he is fearless, he volunteers to try and reach the outside world to see what is happening, hoping to re-establish a route so that the caravans that once came and went freely, and which represented and maintained the Wheel of Life for this ancient culture, could return.
Joining him on this expedition into the unknown is his brother, wife and daughters, KK and Sinbad, a seasoned sailor who is known as a ‘giant’, not for his stature but for the great distances he has travelled.
Venturing out, heading towards the frozen Ringberg (mountains) that surround Rodemia, they will encounter strange sights and hair-raising perils aplenty.
And with every passing day, what once was paradise will become more like hell, leading to a desperate race against time not only to save their own lives but a whole civilisation as the ice sheets push forward remorselessly.
With its apocalyptic premise, and unique cultural backdrop, where the gods are flesh and blood and sacred rites dictate the passage of life, The End of Paradise provides a gripping, magical adventure that will transport readers to another world.
It’s a pacey adventure with numerous set pieces that really ramp up the tension, such as the passage across the treacherous Ringberg or braving raging waters on a makeshift raft, and the central team of characters are so likeable—even the conceited KK—that you quickly become invested in their welfare, and the vital importance of their mission.
Across their quest, they will have to form strange alliances but each character has their own motives, fears and traumas that informs their actions and responses, and which makes their individual journeys believable.
What I particularly loved, however, was the pure essence of the book. It is simply yet beautifully written, with a fanciful innocence to the prose sometimes reminiscent of a fairy tale, such as in this passage:
There was harmony. The night was almost halfway through. The moon shone a bright light over a thick layer of fleecy clouds that covered the valley like a blanket. People and animals were sleeping under this blanket and, judging by its white colour, they were enjoying pristine dreams. Beyond the horizon, the tall and sharp teeth of the mighty Ringberg that curled around the valley rose above the clouds.
For me, another key appeal is the deep rapport that the Aser have with nature. They respect all other life and have come to learn the language of the animals, whether it be a certain noise or aspect of body language, such as the twitching of an ear.
I also loved learning about the wider myth of the Bock Saga and the numerous traditions and celebrations of the Aser. This is a people bound together with a true sense of community, undivided by strife or property. In today’s troubled world, both politically and environmentally, it’s a charming dream.
The Saga, which is said to be encyclopaedic in its detail, is the perfect resource for a new type of fantasy setting, and it is interesting to read about how the legends that have come down to us today may, if the Saga is indeed genuine, have their roots in this first civilisation.
For instance, dragons are people who ‘drag-on’, ‘elves’ are the eleven older brothers of the chief god, Ukko, the Allfather; and the three Fates are actually just three friendly, accessible ladies.
For all these reasons, The End of Paradise—which comes with a glossary of unfamiliar terms from the ‘Root’ language of the Aser—is so different to any other book I’ve read, and the fact that Odenma is marked for destruction brings a pronounced tragic element to it. It’s akin to reading The Lord of the Rings knowing that Middle Earth is going to blow up come what may.
While The End of Paradise is Borgen’s first novel, it is his third book about the Bock Saga, following non-fiction titles The Bock Saga: An Introduction—which explains the Bock Saga— and memoir Temporarily Insane, which covers the bizarre three-decades-long search by a dedicated group of ‘Bockists’, the Temple Twelve, for a multi-billion-pound treasure trove known as the Lemminkäinen Hoard.
This novel is the perfect companion for those engrossed in the Bock Saga, bringing its ancient lore to life, but whether you subscribe to the truth of the Saga or not is, in this case, immaterial.
For the bottom line is that it is a thoroughly entertaining read from start to end and leads me to declare that The End of Paradise would make for an epic, engrossing TV or film adaptation.