I am so excited about this new fantasy world from John Gwynne. It is everything comforting and familiar and yet somehow so hard to achieve that we look for in fantasy. And the audiobook performance is stunning.
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 . . .
Anyone who has read this book will rave about Orka, one of this novel’s main characters and the first character I’ve read in a long time to rapidly earn my unending devotion. I’m not sure how to describe just how Gwynne pulls off Orka’s charisma—she’s old and jaded, will do anything for her family, burdened by PTSD and a murky past, and completely badass. But when I tell you I would jump off a cliff if she told me to, I would. Good thing she’s fictional.
The rest of the characters, main and side, are also excellent. As Gwynne intended, each embodies a different aspect of the harsh Viking-inspired world he’s created. I loved watching all of them grow and evolve.
FANTASY HOW I LIKE IT
This entire book feels like the fine craftsmanship of a master who is confident in his style and skill. Unlike lots of fantasy in this space, there are few words out of place, no moments when the reader groans internally, wishing the editor had been a bit more happy to cut. It is lean and pure fantasy.
There’s the goriest gore you could desire. Awesome, creative monsters. A lot of well-choreographed fights, accurate weapons and armors, longships, and shield walls. A lot of talk of battle fame, honor, and oaths.
When Gods go to war, it is no small thing.
What is excellent, in my opinion, about this kind of fantasy at this moment in time, is that it is so effectively escapist. I feel like Alexander Dumas when I say it is delightfully nostalgic (with some denial sprinkled in) to dive into a world when honor and oaths and bravery mean something and bind people together.
Of course, this isn’t to say that the novel doesn’t deal with serious topics like slavery and bigotry and general othering of people, but to be honest, it does all of these things in an extremely white way that paints everything with an unambiguous brush. Believing someone is less than human because they’re different is bad. Saving your comrade in battle instead of fleeing is good, that kind of thing. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to find that kind of non-complexity comforting, and in fact, I think it can be re-centering in a world vastly different from the Battle-Plain.
In conclusion, this is a delightful, engrossing delusion of a fantasy, a set-piece with stunning battles and monsters, excellent characters you will be instantly devoted to, and betrayal and unexpected plot twists to boot.
To be honest, I’m a little sad I’m hopping on this train right at the beginning of the series. Because now I’ll be waiting years for the next one, and the next one, and generally following Orka wherever she goes like a lovesick puppy.