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

My Five Word TL:DR Review : Brilliant

ShadowI absolutely loved The Shadow of the Gods, in fact it’s possibly the best book I’ve read in a long time.  It made me happy every time I picked it up, I was caught in the age old dilemma of racing to the end to discover what happens at the same time as wanting to slow down my reading so that the story wouldn’t end too quickly.  This is a story that feels refreshingly unique and yet epicly familiar and it had me talking out loud in awe at certain points.  In a nutshell this book gave me a warm glow, it made me smile more often than I thought possible, it was gripping and heart wrenching and the kind of book that reminds me why I love reading fantasy so very much.  Mr Gwynne, I salute you for bringing back to me the joy of reading.  This review will be unabashadley gushing in nature. I want everyone to read this book, in fact I want to read it again to see what I missed the first time around.

As soon as I heard that Gwynne was writing a Norse inspired story I was onboard.  What better type of story for a talented writer of battle scenes than a Viking style saga set in a world of dead Gods and filled with mythical creatures and monsters?  This story from this author – what can I say, it’s like a perfect match.

Shadow of the Gods is set in a world shattered and reformed following the demise of warring Gods.  Relics and bones are sought after for their magical qualities and descendents of the Gods still exist, their god blessed blood giving them strange abilities.  Such people are known as ‘tainted’.  They generally keep their natures secret as they’re feared and loathed in equal amounts and also hunted down and enslaved more often than not.

The story is told by three characters, each sets out on their own path although ultimately their stories converge (remember that patience is a virtue).  I won’t deny that I had a firm favourite amongst the three and so I’ll start with that particular character.  Orka is a huntress and former warrior. She now lives a quiet life with her husband and son (Thorkell and Breca) but the peace they have found is about to be shattered.  Children are being taken, stolen in the night or violently torn from their parents for unknown purposes.  In one night Orka’s world is changed and she sets off on a path that is awe inspiring to behold.  Orka is such a great character.  She’s an absolute tigress and yet at the same time her maternal instincts, although initially buried beneath a stern exterior, are so emotionally touching.  Don’t get me wrong, she made me so frustrated with the way she rushed into situations with very little thought of her own safety or how she’d get back out of such situations but her reckless behaviour and furious onslaughts were certainly never dull to read about and I just couldn’t help but become attached to her in very short order.  We also meet Varg, an escaped slave (or thrall) who seeks vengeance for his murdered sister.  Unfortunately Varg has no idea who commited the crime and seeks magical aid to recreate her last moments and uncover her murderer.  Varg, hunted himself, becomes embroiled with a band of mercenaries known as The Bloodsworn.  In this company he finds friendship, respect and a camaraderie that he has never experienced before which leaves him warring with the desire to stay with his new found friends and the need to fulfill the oath he has sworn to his sister.  I loved The Bloodsworn, their endeavours and stories made for some excellent smile inducing reading.  Finally we have Elvar.  A woman with a secret past.  Elvar dreams of renown earned through battles and brave deeds.  Taken in and trained by the Battle Grim she finds herself taking part in an adventure that could possibly be sung about throughout the ages (if all goes to plan that is).

The driver of the plot is the missing children but underlying this is the nagging at the back of your brain that these children are being taken for a definite purpose and it’s this undercurrent that really ramps up the tension.

I loved the world building here.  Vigrið is the perfect combination of warm familiarity and uniquely new creation.  There are trolls and other critters living in the woods, creatures that will hunt and kill.  Orka, for example, seems to be bonded to two incredibly strange creatures.  One with a venomous sting that seems to live under a rock and has the creepiest description ever and the other that seems like a tiny flying dragon with a penchant for teeth!  And really, was there a need for Night Wyrms!  Seriously, their particular brand of horror will haunt my dreams for a while yet to come.  Everything about this world just screams epic.  The landscape itself, the dead Gods, magnificent beasts such as Snakes, Wolves and Dragons.  The battleground on which their remains lie buried.  Tree spirits or protectors.  The attention to detail about everyday life that brings the place to life.  The magnificently depicted fight sequences, bloody and brilliant to read.  And the writing which is simply spot on and evocative with little extras such as Svik, one of the Bloodsworn, who likes to tell funny stories.

What I thought was really well done here – is that Gwynne makes you invest in all three storylines, you become attached to the characters and their flaws.  The motivations at play are well realised and there’s an ever increasing sense of dread for what’s about to happen.  And yet, the conclusion also makes you realise that these groups are quite likely to come into conflict in future instalments and for me this felt masterfully executed.  Certainly, one of the groups is truly mercenary, their ‘heroic’ deeds driven by the love of coin as much as the desire to earn fame for their fighting prowess.  Basically, though I had little doubting moments at the back of my mind, I still found myself liking the characters which for me is a testament to how well written they are.  They feel believable.  Flawed, conflicted, motivated, strong, likable, secretive, sneaky, sometimes funny, relatable characters basically.

I think I may have mentioned that this review may be ‘gushing’ in nature and to reinforce that I would just clarify – this book is excellent.  I can’t recommend it enough to be honest.  It has this wonderful old school feel to it that invokes Tolkien, Beowolf and tales of Ragnarok but at the same time it stands on it’s own feet in the most refreshingly unique way.

Masterfully done.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating: Five dazzlingly sparkly stars

8 Responses to “The Shadow of the Gods (The Bloodsworn Saga #1) by John Gwynne”

  1. Tammy

    Lovely review, Lynn, I am so excited to start this. Hopefully sometime this week if all goes well:-)

  2. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I loved the various story lines in this one and each character was so well written! I hope to get my review up later this week, but I also enjoyed it a lot.

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    With books like this one, gushing is the only option left to us: Gwynne once again stole our hearts and mind with this one, and the only problems I had with the story was that there was not enough of it! 😉
    Great review, thanks for sharing!

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  7. sjhigbee

    Love your review, Lynn:)). I really loved this one, too. And I absolutely agree – the strength of this one is that there are many nods to the classic epic fantasy reads, but that Gwynne then manages to put his own modern twist on the genre, too. And that isn’t easy to do…

  8. Gobookmart.com

    Nice novel.. and great start to a series… We have also reviewed this novel. Do read and share your comments https://gobookmart.com/the-shadow-of-the-gods-by-john-gwynne-first-book-in-bloodsworn-trilogy/

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