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Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne Review

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Set in a brand-new, Norse-inspired world, and packed with myth, magic and bloody vengeance, The Shadow of the Gods begins an epic new fantasy saga from bestselling author John Gwynne.

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 . . .

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: John Gwynne lives in Eastbourne running a small family business with his wife (which means doing what she tells him to do) rejuvenating vintage furniture (which means lifting, chopping, painting and gluing, not necessarily in that order).When he's not writing or fixing furniture he can be found training for battle with spear, sword and shield on the South Downs, dressed in a coat of mail and standing in a shieldwall.

FORMAT/INFO: THE SHADOW OF THE GODS was published on May 4th, 2021 by Orbit Books. It is 478 pages split over 53 chapters. It is told in third person from the point of view of Orka, Elvar, and  Varg. It is available in paperbook and ebook formats.

It’s been nearly three hundred years since the gods warred and fell, destroying large parts of the land and releasing vaesen into the world. Since then, humanity has turned its back on any worship of its former deities, intent on making sure destruction of such magnitude doesn’t happen again. That includes hunting the Tainted, humans with godblood in their veins, blood that gives enhanced strength and abilities. 

In this land, various bands of warriors roam about seeking battlefame and gold, hiring themselves out to whoever can supply the coin. Elvar is a warrior of the Battlegrim, a group that hunts Tainted for profit and who find themselves in possession of information that will forever cement their names in legend. Varg, meanwhile, is a former thrall seeking revenge who ends up in the company of the Bloodsworn, a mercenary band who may hold the key to finding his sister’s murderers. Lastly Orka is a solitary huntress who left the warrior life behind her, but is called to arms once more. All three warriors are on paths that will forever change the land – and not necessarily for the better. 

I am a sucker for tales where the fantastical are part of every day life. I don’t mean in the sense of “we know there’s a dragon in the mountain thousands of miles from here, but most of us don’t interact with it.” I mean when a character makes a special breakfast every morning for a creature she bound to her homestead, so that as long as she feeds it, it will warn her of danger and protect her family. Or when a creature stealing your teeth is a very real possibility. The Shadow of the Gods blends myth and fact together. No one here would argue that the gods existed, but they might argue over WHICH gods existed, and which are just tales to scare children into good behavior. Is the resting place of the gods’ bodies real or fantasy? That line between fact and fiction is a blurry fog in the world of The Shadow of the Gods, and not all stories stay myth. 

I want to take a moment to shout out how blessedly gender-equal this society is. Too often I find books with female protagonists (which is great) that then have nary a woman in sight in the supporting cast. Not so in The Shadow of the Gods. You have female Vikings, female villains, female heroes, female merchants. You’ve got both a mother and a woman who never wants kids in your female protagonists. I wish this wasn’t something that felt like a big deal to me, but while SFF has made a lot of improvements, I still find myself overjoyed to discover a world where a female hero isn’t an exception to society rules. 

The individual POV characters are engaging, with just enough mystery in their lives to keep you guessing about the specifics of their past, without it being maddening. Orka, for instance, used to be a warrior, and clearly keeps a lot about her past life from her son. Varg is more of a “newbie” warrior, joining up with a band in the hopes that their mage can help him track down those he needs revenge on, while Elvar is a career warrior in a completely different band (and is also avoiding certain commitments in her life imposed on her by others). It was fun tracking their movements on the map and see how certain characters were coming closer together, the sense of the impending collision heightening the adventure. 

While the individual POV characters are distinct, I did have a strangely hard time keeping their storylines straight. I don’t often have trouble keeping track of multiple POVs, but in this case, there were enough similarities that I found myself occasionally mixing details up. Two of the characters are in warrior bands, each pursuing something through woods. I sometimes had to remind myself which character was after which goal and which side characters were with which person. This may have been a purely “me” problem, and I still thoroughly enjoyed the book but it happened enough I made note of it. That said, events towards the end of the book started to make the groups more easily differentiated, and this may not be a problem for me going forward.

CONCLUSION: The Shadow of the Gods is wonderfully atmospheric, and readers looking for a Nordic flavored fantasy adventure will find plenty to love. The ending sets up some fairly dramatic stakes for the sequel in this trilogy, promising that life for our heroes is only going to get worse before it gets better.



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