#WyrdAndWonder Book Review: The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of The Bloodsworn Saga
Publisher: Orbit (May 4, 2021)
Length: 520 pages
John Gwynne works his magic yet again! Like many epic fantasies, The Shadow of the Gods follows several characters as they each attempt to navigate their own separate winding storylines, but it is always a thing of beauty to watch it come together in the hands of a master storyteller.
Set in gritty world of hardened warriors, vengeful gods and fearsome monsters, this Norse mythology inspired story follows Orka, who has given up life on the battlefield for a quiet homestead where she lives with her husband Thorkill and young son Breca. Peace is not in the cards, however, as reports of children being stolen away in the night have everyone in the nearby village feeling agitated and suspicious. Orka and her family are content to keep to themselves, until she returns home one day to find Breca, ripped violently from their home. Determined to make those responsible pay, Orka sets out on a journey to rescue her boy.
Meanwhile, another thread follows Varg, a former thrall who is seeking vengeance for his murdered sister. To do so, he will need the services of a witch to recreate her final moments to reveal the identity of her killer. Unfortunately, Varg is on the run himself, and is nearly captured until a mercenary band known as the Bloodsworn intervenes, inviting him to join them. And finally, there is the fierce warrior woman Elvar, who travels with the monster-hunting warband Battle Grim. Like her fellow fighters, she yearns to prove herself through her bravery and skill, but later comes to learn there may be more to life than glory and riches.
What I’ve always loved about Gwynne is his writing style, which immerses you in the setting and evokes a vivid sense of place. The details make his worlds come to life, making it easy to envision the snowy landscapes and gritty atmosphere. The author’s passion for his inspiration was also evident in the attention to the little things, like what the people wore, what they ate, how they spoke…the list goes on and on. So much of it was also his own creation, like the lore of the gods, or the sheer variety of different monsters and creatures that call this world home.
But even more impressive are his characters, the way he weaves multiple narratives that ultimately converge in this heart-stopping climax. Usually when it comes to epic fantasy where you have a bunch of different POVs and side plots, you inevitably get a character or two who may fall by the wayside, but I can honestly say it doesn’t happen here. Orka, Varg, and Elvar were all equally fascinating, their storylines each filled with plenty of action and adventure to hold their own. While it might have been true that a couple of these threads were slower to take off, I nonetheless followed all them with the same enthusiasm, though if forced to choose, my favorite was probably Orka. What can I say? There’s just something very compelling about a protagonist guided by her dual nature as a mother and a warrior because, hey, she may be a killing machine, but she’s got a soft side too.
Also, if you crave epic battle scenes, then you’re going to love this. Clearly, it’s an art form that Gwynne has perfected over the years, and not only that, he’s honed his sense of timing to drop these intense action sequences where they can make the most impact, keeping overall momentum swift and urgent so that the result is nearly flawless pacing. Sure, like I mentioned, there were a couple lulls, but these were never prolonged and I didn’t feel they affected my enjoyment all that much because you could always count on something to pull you right back in.
Bottom line, as the opening volume, The Shadow of the Gods sets up the story beautifully, making me hungry for the rest of The Bloodsworn Saga. This is truly epic fantasy at its best—an outstanding achievement in storytelling, fantasy world-building, and character development. Not to be missed, and I simply can’t wait for the next installment.