This is my first John Gwynne and I have a feeling it won’t be my last. The level this book took it when it comes to fantasy and world building was definitely worth not understanding a bit of the Norse language.
After the gods warred and drove themselves to extinction, the cataclysm of their fall shattered the land of Vigrið.
Now a new world is rising, where power-hungry jarls feud and monsters stalk the woods and mountains. A world where the bones of the dead gods still hold great power for those brave – or desperate – enough to seek them out.
Now, as whispers of war echo across the mountains and fjords, fate follows in the footsteps of three people: a huntress on a dangerous quest, a noblewoman who has rejected privilege in pursuit of battle fame, and a thrall who seeks vengeance among the famed mercenaries known as the Bloodsworn.
All three will shape the fate of the world as it once more falls under the shadow of the gods
I’m always intimidated when it comes to big high fantasy books because I’m worried it’ll be confusing and hard to follow. Trust me, I’ve had so many fantasy books that I’ve had to start again because I couldn’t really get a grasp of it from the start. But The Shadow of the Gods was different in a good way. It wasn’t complicated keeping it to a three-person max with narratives and kept you pretty entertained throughout the entire story.
The story starts off in a world where the gods are dead and no one cares. Because of their ruthless fighting throughout their time alive, the people of this world want little to do with them and want to live their lives in peace without them. Anything to do with the gods is shunned or destroyed. The Tainted (god-born humans who also have their power) are mostly enslaved or killed because of who they are on the power they possess. Most of them are trying to just live their lives, but others are looking for reparations for what people have done to them.
There’s three main characters in this one and a dozen other side characters that these three interact with throughout the story:
Orka – a former warrior whose now a mother and homemaker. When her son is kidnapped by a mysterious band of troublemakers, she sets off to find him leaving a path of death and destruction in her wake. My favorite line from her was “I am blood. I am death. I am vengeance.” to give you some idea of her bad assery. I think Orka was my favorite character from the entire story.
Varg – a former thrall (which I think are the enslaved people of this book) whose looking to avenge his sister’s death. He doesn’t know much of what happened, but he’s determined to find a witch to help with seeing her final moments before she died. He comes across the Bloodsworn, a band of warriors who kill monsters, hunt for treasure, and protect the lands. And as he becomes one with them, more is revealed about himself.
Elvar – a warrior of the Battle-Grim group. They’re basically guns for hire looking for treasure and enslaving Tainted people to sell to wealthy land owners. Elvar is trying to prove that she’s more than what her father has planned for her.
The more I sit on this story, the more I learn that I loved it. The Viking vibe with the Norse mythology was truly a unique concept to explore and it was probably my favorite part of the entire story. This book isn’t for the faint of heart. I honestly found myself grimacing at more than a few of the battle scenes because of the graphic level of blood and death happening. And I’m pretty good when it comes to graphic violence having been exposed to it since I was a little kid. But wow, John Gwynne goes really deep into the descriptions making sure that nothing is incorrectly portrayed.
It’s also supremely well written. Aside from the Norse language that I couldn’t understand (and no glossary), it was so visualized, plot-driven, and interesting to dive into. The pacing is a bit slow in some areas and I definitely felt a lull here and there, but there’s so much action taking place either contributing to the overall plot or just happening to the characters that you won’t be bored. I mean, I devoured this book over four days and it’s not a small book.
I will say, you need to pace yourself with this book because it took a while for the plot to show itself. It also took some time for the characters to really mean something to the overarching story. It might have just been me, but I kept expecting things to come together much sooner than it did. But this seriously is one of those stories you need to sit back and let it be told and trust that the author will deliver what you’re waiting for.
And the ending was superb. The last 100 pages of this book was the most intense part and I can see it all culminating to the big reveal, which didn’t surprise me, but definitely the part I was anticipating the entire time.
Overall, this was such a great start to a new epic fantasy series. You get all the characters, their personal development, the world building, and bigger plot points. And at the end, you get this glorious sweet treat that really sets you up perfectly for the next book. I can’t wait to read the next one.