When I first received a copy of The Shadow of The Gods in the mail I can’t tell you how excited I was. I’d never read a John Gwynne novel before but I’ve seen pretty much nothing but acclaim for his work. And the reviews from those other books had me thinking any story by Gwynne would be right up my alley. Friends, those thoughts were not wrong.
The Shadow of The Gods is a violent, bloody, Norse inspired saga that I didn’t want to set down. I was disappointed at the end not because it was bad, but because I hungered for more. My tastes in fantasy vary, and I like to think they are wide ranging, but that gritty, battle filled epic is definitely a favorite of mine.
“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 . . .”Goodreads Blurb
- Gritty and bloody Norse inspired setting
- Remnants of the gods
- Fights and battles, fights and battles
- Well rounded characters
- Relentless pace
- That cover
- Some info-dumping
Look, the key take away from this review should you decide not to read any of the rest of it is I LOVED THIS BOOK! If you want to stop here because you think I’m going to ramble on too long about what I loved that’s fine. I loved it and I think you should go read it. There, you can go pick up your copy and love it too. If you want to know why I loved it…well…
I find reading joy in gritty and bloody fantasy settings. I have come to realize this about myself and I’m happy with it. The Shadow of The Gods fits that description wonderfully. In this Norse inspired setting life is hard and often ends in bloodshed. Survival isn’t easy when one has to contend with rival powers for a throne, mercenary battle companies roving the land, and monstrous creatures out of legend that want to rip you to pieces (and maybe eat your teeth). Gwynne made me feel this setting on land and at sea. And one thing I especially appreciated is while it was Norse inspired it didn’t simply use Norse gods and imagery in a new world, but instead took the core elements and gave it a new pantheon and mythology that fit the world perfectly.
Another aspect of the setting and part of the larger worldbuilding are the remnants of the gods that are spread throughout the story. In centuries past the gods fought an epic war and were slain. Their bodies and artifacts fell to the earth and can still be found. They became in some ways like ancient ruins and artifacts from our own ancient Rome or Greece (or pick any other ancient civilization). Now their remains can be seen and touched much like visiting the ruins of some ancient temple, reminding you of time gone by only remembered in tale and legend, both real and unreal. This was just such a cool element to the story.
Now, if I say I’m a fan of the blood and grit that obviously means I’m a fan of really good fight scenes right? Right!! It’s an understatement to say Gwynne has a knack for this story element. In the highlights above I noted “fights and battles, fights and battles” because that’s what we get, combat scenes that alternate between small in-close fights with a couple characters, and larger battle scenes between groups. Gwynne handles each with detail and tension that keeps you on edge not really knowing what the outcome will be or how bad it will get. And believe me it doesn’t take long for you to realize anyone in the story could die.
Then there’s the characters. We get three POV characters Orka, Elvar, and Varg. The blurb above gives an apt description of each without giving too much away. What I loved was how similar they were while being very different; all warriors of different skill level on some form of quest; each experiencing some amount of found family; yet each one with a different background and motivation. We get two women and one man, all three from different strata of society. What I also really, really loved was the feeling I couldn’t completely trust any one of them. Not because they might have been an evil antagonist, but that you weren’t always sure about their motivation, or whether they would betray their “friends,” or if there was something terrible in their background just waiting to be revealed. The characters were just so well developed and plotted and yeah…I was uncertain about each at some level yet loved them all. Let me also add that we see men and women in equal roles and skills in the story whether the POV characters, non-POV named characters, or the unnamed guards and townsfolk.
To top it all off was the pacing. It felt relentless. Even when there was some aspect of downtime it felt like the characters needed to hurry because you just knew something was coming and they needed to be ready. Each chapter quickly flowed to the next even though it jumped to a new POV. Each POV character begins the novel in a far flung area of the land and things build and converge until well…until everything just starts to come together so to speak. I never once felt like this book was a slog and every bit of it was exciting.
One final praise I want to heap on the book is that cover. I LOVE a good cover and this one is fantastic. That massive dragon bearing down on that teeny tiny warrior who is trying to defend themselves with shield and sword on top of that insignificant rock. oof. such a great cover.
My only complaint (which is minimal) is related to some info-dumping. I kinda hate info dumps and love it when authors can work them in without it seeming obvious. Gwynne uses them in a number of conversations between characters to explain the history and background of the world. Sometimes they work (like in a teaching moment with a child), and sometimes they don’t (like in conversations between two adults). The info dumps weren’t horrible, and the other great aspects of the book ensured they didn’t linger in my mind too long, but they were there. But they didn’t take me out of the read and didn’t spoil the story.
I’m not really sure what else to day that I haven’t already gushed about. I know there are things I’ve skipped over, like the magic system and how some of the people in the book are “tainted” and somewhat more than human (think far flung descendants of the gods), and the quest for battle fame, or vows to be fulfilled and people to be found. There’s only so much I can write about before this review gets too long (too late I know). The Shadow of The Gods has be yearning for more from John Gwynne, and I’m eagerly awaiting book two. If any of what I discussed above appeals to you then don’t hesitate to pick this one up.
*I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this book from the publisher.
Author: John Gwynne
Series: The Bloodsworn Saga #1
Publication Date: May 4, 2021
Format: Paperback ARC