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 . . .
I picked this book up after 5 minutes browsing in Waterstones, the cover looked cool and I was in the mood for some classic fantasy. I've been reading a lot of SF recently because I am working on an SF project, but I wanted a break from that. The copy of the book that I bought dosen't even have a blurb on it, it simply says:
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.
and that was enough for me. To be honest, I'm glad I didnt see the blurb - it sounds pretty cheesy (as many fantasy books blurbs do) and it may have put me off! I've never heard of John Gwynne before, but I'm trying to branch out, so a new author is a good thing.
What I loved
This book is brutal AF! Which is exactly what you want if you are reading a story about a bunch of vikings living in a land where magic is real and danger lurks around each bend in the Fjord. Gwynne is damn good at action scenes, which is fortunate because there are a lot of them! The three main characters are warriors so, as you would expect, there are lots of opportunities for blood (and brains and guts) to be spilt. It probably helped that I was an avid watcher of the Vikings series a few years ago, so my imagination could easily draw on scenes from that show and add them to the gory tapestry that Gwynne weaves in this book. And it wasn't just the action sequences, a norse themed fantasy book wouldn't be complete without grisly scenes of blood eagled human corpses hanging from the boughs of black forest pine trees like rotten piñatas. Spoiler - there is more than one of these.
"It sounds . . . dangerous."
"This is Vigrið," she answered "living is dangerous." And she marched on.
The story follows three characters, with each chapter being from the POV of each. I thought all of the characters were well formed and believable, female characters also featured heavily (BUT not in a contrived way - pretty much everyone is a complete badass and the women were treated no differently). Two of the characters are travelling with full mercenary warbands so you also see a lot of side characters and interactions between them, which does add some much needed levity.
There is nothing new here, anyone who has watched viking inspired TV or played Skyrim will get the vibe quickly, however, the worldbuilding here is first class. Overlaid on top of the classic norse ecosystem Gywnne adds an intriguing magic system which relies on bloodlines from the ancient giant animal based gods having filtered down into humans creating the "Tainted". These people are kind of like were-beasts, but rather than full transformations they seem to just have bestial attributes and in some cases, magic powers. Though ever present in the story, you don't get much information about them, other than they are outcasts and are either enslaved or killed when found. I am sure we will learn more in book 2 (which I have already purchased).
Threads joining together
Yes, I knew within the first 5 or so chapters which direction the story was heading in, I guessed at the end goal (the cover art is not exactly subtle), BUT this didn't prevent me from delighting in the route it took to get there. I love it when disparate characters in separate POV characters are headed in the same direction, I eagerly look forward to the crescendo moment where they all collide in a classic rom-com meet-cute. I wasn't disappointed (though "cute" is not a word that should be allowed within 100 metres of this book). However, what I didn't guess at was how they were interlinked. Looking back there was foreshadowing, but Gwynne definitely delivered some unexpected twists into the narrative.
What fell flat
I'm struggling to think of anything to put here. Maybe it was a little predicatable? Maybe everyone was too much of a hard-nut bad ass? Honestly I was fine with both of these so this is me scraping the barrel to fill out this section!
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, I have already bought the second one "Hunger of the Gods" and I may even start reading it this evening. Would highly recommend!