Review: The Shadow of the Gods (The Bloodsworn Saga #1) by John Gwynne

Rating: 9/10

Synopsis

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 . . .

Review

The Shadow of the Gods is the first book in John Gwynne’s Bloodsworn Saga, and if it is any indication as to how the rest of the series is going to go, readers are in for quite a treat. I enjoyed this book immensely.

This is actually my first Gwynne book (the rest sit on my shelf, patiently waiting for their turn at the tetherball pole), and I have been hearing for years about how great a storyteller the author is. I can now officially confirm that for myself. The story itself is really epic told from multiple perspectives and includes several storylines. This is not anything new to readers of fantasy, as this is what most new fantasy book are like. What was impressive to me is the way these stories are told. The narrative flow, pacing, word and phrase usage, sentence structure, dialogue – the whole thing felt like I was sitting around a fire, listening to a bard passing oral histories down to a crowd of youngsters. As far as storytelling goes, I am not sure there is anyone better than Gwynne.

I was definitely impressed with the character building, as well. Each is well-developed, with their motivations and emotions hanging out there for all to see. I think Varg is my favorite, because I really loved his journey from beginning to end. All three main characters are really interesting and every one took the story to surprising places, but, in my opinion, Varg’s is the one I found to the most intriguing. From his initiation with the Bloodsworn all the way through to the end, it was really entertaining. As I said, they were all great in their own ways, and Gwynne does a phenomenal job of making them all relatable.

Another positive of the book is the world building. While it is not super complex, I really like worlds that are not static; worlds where the topography influences the story. The landmarks in this book – mountains, rivers, forests, etc – all have deep roots in Vigrid’s history, and so much of that affects current events in a very profound fashion. In that way, I consider it to be a very active setting. That includes an interesting history of gods and battles and magic, as well.

These aspects combine to create a full slate of tension-building elements. There is a consistent ebb and flow to the suspense that developed into a constant “just one more chapter” pattern of reading, always needing to know where the story was going and not wanting to wait.

The one drawback for me was the suddenness of some of the character deaths. I know this is what Gwynne is known for, and often people will praise the author for it. I have no issue with characters being killed off, my main point is how quickly it was done at times. I want the drama, the pain, the emotional seepage that comes with a slow death. Give me a chance too cry. I had to reread paragraphs a few times and think to myself, “did that just happen or did I misunderstand?” I found myself shrugging it off for the most part. Too often it was used as motivation for characters action in the story, and I think the narrative could have used more diversity of thought in that way.

Overall, The Shadow of the Gods is a fabulous read. It is immersive and intriguing with a story full of suspense. Not only can I not wait for the next book in The Bloodsworn Saga, but I am looking forward to reading Gwynne’s backlist, as well.

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