The Shadow of the Gods (The Bloodsworn Saga #1) by John Gwynne
Published by Orbit Books
Adult, Epic Fantasy
Release Date : May 6th 2021 (UK) & May 4th 2021 (US)
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 . . .
“This is a world of blood. Of tooth and claw and sharp iron. Of short lives and painful deaths.”
ARC provided by the publisher Orbit through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The gods are dead but their stories are still being told and their songs are still being sung. The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne enters the fantasy battle plain with a brand new Norse-inspired epic fantasy that will claim battle fame amongst the 2021 fantasy releases.
In all honesty The Shadow of the Gods is the very first book by John Gwynne I’ve ever read. Throughout the time I’ve discovered my love for adult fantasy, John Gwynne’s books has always been in my radar. With many good books I wanna read I haven’t managed to read The Faith and the Fallen series. Once I got the ARC (Advance Readers Copy) of this book I took it as a sign and bumped it up my TBR because I’ve heard nothing but good things about Gwynne’s writing. Thankfully jumping into this book it is a new series in a different world with a whole new cast of characters. The very first thing that caught my eye about this book is the GIGANTIC scale of the dragon on the cover compared to the teenie tiny warrior facing it. This amazing cover art is done by Marcus Whinney from Ndream Studio. To check out the process it took for him to create this scary dragon click here. And please check out this non spoiler review by The Fantasy Reviews that included a glossary of all the Scandinavian terms for your reference while reading the book, click here.
” … When gods go to war, it is no small thing. The world was broken in their ruin.”
The Shadow of the Gods is the first instalment to a norse-inspired epic fantasy saga by fantasy’s most renown voices John Gwynne, the author of The Faithful and The Fallen series. For readers who are interested in reading this book and questioning if you have to read Gwynne’s other works the answer is no. The story is completely new, set in a new land called Vigrið or the Battle Plain. In Vigrið, gods used to rule the world, they are admired and worshipped by the people. Until the gods destroyed themselves in a war that drove them into extinction, shattering the land of Vigrið as they fell. In this story we follow three main characters : Orka, Elvar, and Varg. The three of them each carved their way in the Battle Plain each motivated by their own agenda of family, vengeance, and battle fame. But their three paths share a common theme of blood, death, and heart thumping combat. Family is also one of the common themes that is present in all three POVs. Though some could argue each character has a different definition of “family” especially Elvar. It sparked a few thoughts in me about found/chosen family and biological family. Seeing the different variations of familial relationship from each characters perspectives is refreshing.
“I am blood. I am death. I am vengeance.”
It is clear that Gwynne’s ability in characterization is undoubtedly amazing. Each of the three main characters is distinct and well fleshed out. Orka, Elvar, and Varg all of them have their own colors that readers can easily get familiar with them easily. The one character that stood out most from the three is Orka. I have to be clear first that I’m biased towards Orka, her story arc is the most heart wrenching, desperate, and painful out of all the three. Orka’s role as a mother, wife, and a warrior left a strong impression on me. Not just that Orka is a seasoned warrior, she has experienced everything and left the life of travelling with a warband slaying monsters gaining battle fame behind to raise her family. Orka’s emotions bleeds out of the page, I always anticipate reading her chapters because of the nonstop action that is recklessly gritty. She is just unstoppable! I think she will go down as one my favorite female characters in fantasy. The duality in her personality is truly astonishing, she only shows her gentle kindness and love towards the people she cares the most. Even though some of Orka’s actions are questionable, planning wise, her motivation and protectiveness towards her son is admirable. If I could describe Orka as character in one sentence is, “Don’t mess with Mama Bear!”.
“I have not forgotten you. I will never forget you. And my oath stands, I will make it happen. But if I feel some moments of cheer as I walk that path, or find some friends, is that so bad a thing? Should it feel so . . . wrong?”
Another character that I’m rooting for is Varg. Varg is a man that is on a mission to avenge his sister’s death, but to do so he must first know who is responsible. This lead him to get intertwined with the Bloodsworn, a warband that has garnered battle fame over the years in Vigrið. What makes Varg such an impactful character is his emotional development throughout the story. Varg had a rough childhood with his sister, all his life he had to fight for his and his sister’s survival. Because of this Varg feels like he doesn’t belong anywhere, reading the joy he gets after discovering that he belonged somewhere and is appreciated by a lot of people is just so soft. There are many instances where I was so close to tears because of Varg, there is a certain degree purity in the way he views his relationship with the Bloodsworn. I think out of all the bands in the book Bloodsworn has got to be the best of the best, hence the name of the series The Bloodsword Saga. The level of comradery, loyalty, and friendship amongst the characters is just lively and full of energy. From Svik, Rokia, Einar the Half Troll, Torvik, and many more. My favorite member of the Bloodsworn has to go to Svik, the story about him, the cheese, and the Troll will never fail to entertain me.
“Our choices decide the future. Who we trust, who we love. And our choices will determine what comes of the treasures we find at Oskutreð. Kin are not the answer. Blood is not the answer.”
Lastly, Elvar, a young ambitious warrior that is trying to make a name for herself with a warband called, The Battlegrim. In the earlier chapters, Elvar’s perspective isn’t the most interesting out the others. Nothing is wrong about her chapters if I compare Elvar’s chapters with Orka’s or Varg’s its pretty tough. The thing that I didn’t expect is how her arc picked up around 40-50% into the book. There are pretty big revelations about her background that I completely changed my opinion about Elvar. The fascinating aspect about Elvar POVs is her relationship with Grend, a man that has always been by Elvar’s side since she was young. Their guardian-daughter relationship is the factor that I liked most in Elvar’s POV. Besides that one of the strongest qualities about Elvar’s character is her unshakeable determination to be free and earn her battle fame. Shutting out any door that will lead her to live a life of servitude. Though Elvar didn’t show a lot of growth as a character compared to the other two, Elvar’s defiance is consistently inspiring. As someone that identifies as a female Elvar’s story resonated with me on so many levels. I love when female characters that defies gender conforming roles. Her character definitely grew on me and let me remind you Elvar’s story is just starting! The events that happened in this first book will shape her and her decisions in the coming sequels.
“To the Battle-Plain, where the battle had raged the hardest on that dread day, the Guðfalla, when the gods fell, and where vaesen prowled now in greater numbers.”
Personally, I’ve been craving to read an epic fantasy about bands of mercenaries doing mercenary things. This book fulfilled that need for that found family adventuring party, killing creatures and plowing through hordes. The lore for the world of Vigrið with the gods and their demise, the artifacts that are left behind, nasty creatures that live in the land, and many-many more is a spectacle to read. Gwynne’s world building is well detailed and consistent throughout. The revelation of each story of the gods is done by showing readers instead telling readers as the characters reach certain places in Vigrið. Gwynne has made a wondrous world where the gods used to rule but now each place is like a giant graveyard filled with remnants of what had happened in the past. The people of the world had built a society surrounding these remnants to protect themselves from the dangers of vaesens that threats human lives. Every time Gwynne describes a place I was floored by how intricate and detailed the world is. It is imaginative, full of awe, and breath taking.
“Cursed blood flows in them. That is why when mankind rose from the ashes of the Guðfalla they swore to hunt out any of the gods who survived the gods-fall, and to hunt out their seed, their mingling with humankind”
The magic that is established in the world with the existence of Galdurman and the Seiðr-witch is intriguing. Though it is not explored further about how either uses their magic, Gwynne did treat us to the differences between the two. They are similar but different in many ways, one had learned and trained their magic while the other inherited their powers from their ancestors. It surprises how one is viewed a smidge lesser than the other. Heck they even despise each other I think. This leads to another part of the world that fascinated me. How the world views the “tainted” as lesser or slaves as the society actively hunts them down to be sold or enslaved as thralls. People value them the same as objects to collect or to use. The tainted have to actively suppress themselves from being discovered or else they might lose everything. The setting of the story revolves around the remnants of the Guðfalla and how the event impacted the current world. As it serves as the perfect back drop for a story that is oozing with battle starved characters seeking glory or vengeance. It amplified the stakes even further that blew my expectations of how grand and epic the world is.
This is the first time I’ve ever read a John Gwynne book and it was an experience adjusting to John Gwynne’s writing style. What impressed me about Gwynne’s writing is his descriptive, detailed, and cinematic world building. My gripe with Gwynne’s writing is during character introductions. Though all the characters have a variety of personality and visuals, there are moments when Gwynne over describes a character. By this I mean Gwynne would list of every single equipment to a tea that is owned by each character and these characters owns a similar set of equipment. Same again when it came to food, if a band of warriors is having dinner Gwynne will mention every single thing on the table. For me personally it got repetitive and I usually skim these parts as it is mentioned so many times I started memorizing it. But this is just a small thing about the story that can easily be overlooked. It didn’t hinder me from enjoying the book as a whole.
“It is what it is. I will take one step at a time, kill one enemy at a time. They have made their choice and are in this, now. They know the path we are walking, the steel-edge of it, where life and death are closer than lovers.”
Gwynne has a knack for writing emotional battle scenes that exudes heroism, bravery, and raw barbaric strength. I love raging barbarians that just go ham during battle. And Gwynne does not disappoint at all! There are plenty of skull splitting moments that is gruesome and brutal. For battle fever readers you’re in for a treat. Each battle sequence is written tremendously well, from one to one combat, large scale battle scenes, deadly struggles against monstrous beings, and many more. Every time the bands forms a shield wall it brings me close to tears because readers can feel the excitement and jitters of comradery in battle. The last few chapters of the story contained one of the most intense climactic battle scene, I got cold sweats just by thinking about it. Gwynne did a great job in conveying the sheer tension with each stab of the seax, each block of the shield, each jab of the spear, and many more; creating a symphony of insane brutality and skull splitting deaths that is vividly written.
Final thoughts, The Shadow of the Gods is the first book to an epic Norse-inspired adventure that is intensely bloody and character driven. It took me a while to get used to John Gwynne’s writing but he lived up to his expectations. Now I understand the hype for his books and I will definitely pick his books up in the near future. For a first book to a series it starts of strong and created a perfect base for future sequels. I’d be lying if I didn’t say my expectations are quite high for second book. I just hope that the characters finds a sliver of happiness, the ending to this first book is too heart wrenching I just can’t bear it. From a scale of 1 to 10 I’d rate this 11 for pain. I highly recommend for those who love a character driven story, with descriptive world building that rich with lore, and brutally believable battle scenes to pre order this book immediately or demand your library to buy it for you, just get your hands on it once it is available.
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
“All is lies,” she murmured. “They call this the age of peace, because the ancient war is over and the gods are dead, but if this is peace . . .”
“This is the age of storm and murder . . . ”