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

Rating: 8.5/10

Synopsis

This is the age of storm and murder. After the old gods warred and drove themselves to extinction, the cataclysm of their fall shattered the land of Vigrio.

Now, power-hungry jarls carve out petty kingdoms, and monsters stalk the shadow-haunted woods and mountains. A world where the bones of the dead gods still hold great power, promising fame and fortune for those brave – or desperate – enough to seek them out.

As whispers of war echo over the plains and across the fjords, fate follows the footsteps of three people: a huntress searching for her missing son, a jarl’s daughter who has rejected privilege in pursuit of battle fame, and a thrall who has cast off his chains and now fights alongside the famed mercenaries known as the Bloodsworn.

All three will shape the fate of the world, as it once more teeters on the edge of chaos.

Review

First of all, thanks a lot to Little, Brown, and Orbit, for sending me over this beautiful ARC – it in no way affected my review. I’ve even got myself a special edition version of this book on order … if that is any indication of how I felt about this book.

It is bookshelf worthy, reread worthy and definitely the start of a series you’ll want to follow to the bitter end.

The Shadow of the Gods is an intensely set, vigorously paced and unrelenting read that’ll have you thinking about it when you’ve put it down, gone to bed, or at work, however you spend the weird time you spend not reading. It’s one of those books that seems like a marathon when you look back at it sweaty, tired with sick down your shirt and tears stinging your face. But in fact, it was a sprint because it was consumed so fast you’ll have to slowly digest what it was you liked about the book in the first place. Which is pretty much everything in my case.

The plot is one of three POVS: Orka, Varg and Elvar, each who are somehow caught up in the fact that children are going missing from the lands, with their parents mostly dead in the wake of bloodthirsty and mysterious child-stealings. Orka falls victim to one of these and races through the Battle Plain with bloodthirsty vengeance untold. Meanwhile, Varg escapes thralldom and joins the Bloodsworn in an attempt to convince their Seithir woman to use magic that’ll let him witness his sister’s last moments in a bid to find her killer, and Elvar is part of the BattleGrim, a group of mercenaries that trade in the lives of the Tainted, people gifted/cursed by the fallen gods that can use some of their powers, and wind up on a mission which finds them in search of the fallen gods bones of power, and other treasures left in their wake. Writing that short passage really did make me realise how much happened throughout the course of the book. It is certainly one that’s got everything fantasy fans will need. Along with characters you can get behind, feel something for and pray they succeed … though the plot springs its own traps and the land where the gods died isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

It is set in a rich environment torn from the Viking Sagas themselves – it was no surprise to learn that Gwynne is a Viking reenactor; he coats every page in copious amount of authentic detail. From seax to nalbinding hat, it really is all there. While it is a fantasy in its own right, with a pantheon of gods not dissimilar from norse but new at the same time, it has enough nods to the history, culture and mythology of the Vikings to entice anyone interested in their history, or even fans of the TV show with the same name.

A fantastic element of the book, and something very crucial to why I enjoyed it, were all the strange and wonderful creatures that inhabit the land. We have … Spert … yeah, okay. More like dangerous and grotesque. I think he’s a scorpion-like creature with a human face, and that about readies you for the rest of the creatures of the Battle Plain. There are trolls, bull trolls, giant ravens, and a whole subset of creatures called tennur which come in all sorts of weird shapes and hail from a pit caused by the gods.

Gwynne certainly puts his characters through the ringer; they are beaten and broken, beaten, and healed, beaten, and beaten. There’s more chapters that end in a blackout in this book than any other I’ve read – which goes a way to show how no characters are safe. It did start to wear thin with me in the end, but I do like book where none of our main cast are safe. It’s a very stale book where the main characters stay safe, to which Gwynne’s book says, Here, character, take another beating!

Overall, a book that was right up my street, that I certainly will be thinking about for the next … while, that I have already recommend to a whole boatload of friends. It’s great for fans of Vikings, TV show or actual people alike. Go out and buy it … I think you’ll enjoy it if you’ve found your way onto this site.

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