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

Can’t Wait Wednesday : The Shadow of the Gods (The Bloodsworn Saga #1) by John Gwynne 

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is :The Shadow of the Gods (The Bloodsworn Saga #1) by John Gwynne.  I have been waiting for a description and book cover so that I could display this book.  I am so excited for this book.  Literally, I want this book.  I really do.  Anyway, here goes:

ShadowSet 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 . . .

Expected publication : May 2021

In the Shadow of the Gods by Rachel Dunne (Bound Gods #1)

in the shadow of the godsIn the Shadow of the Gods is the debut novel by Rachel Dunne that brings to us a world of divided religion and bound Gods.

Many years ago the land of Fiatera was created by Gods now known as the Parents.  In later years their children, The Twins, added their own creations to this world and as a result were cast out of Heaven and bound to earth.  Since The Fall (as it became known) the people of Fiatera predominantly worship The Parents however there is a small, cult like faction who still worship The Twins and believe that they can be restored to their former glory.  This first instalment takes a look at a number of characters that will eventually either cross paths or will play a role in finding these bound Gods.

I think this was a very entertaining read with solid writing and a cast of characters that are interesting to read about.  It is an ambitious story and, without wanting to sound critical, is clearly a book that plays the role of ‘set up’ for the rest of the series.

The story is told from a number of POVs which is a great way to bring to light different aspects of the world.  We visit the cold North where the climate is so harsh that only the Northmen seem able to survive there.  They’re a hard race of warriors with their own brand of honour – reminiscent of Vikings – they have no qualms about raiding other  villages and killing and pillaging.  The capital city of Fiatera is virtually split into two with those unfortunate enough to have fallen on hard times seeking refuge below the streets in the Canals.  The Canals are rife with crime and run by gangs, all warring with each other for supremacy.  Away from the Capital is Mount Raturo, home to those who follow The Twins.  These followers, priests and seekers literally live in the darkness beneath the mountain.

So, to the characters.  We are introduced to Aro and Rora.  Being twins they are lucky to have survived as followers of The Parents drown all twins at birth to prevent the Bound Gods being resurrected.  They have spent the majority of their young lives barely staying alive, one step ahead of discovery and eventually seeking refuge in the Canals.  Aro is an odd character, quite a weak boy who needs the protection of his sister Rora – although to be honest I have my own suspicions about Aro that I won’t elaborate on for fear of spoilers (plus, lets face it, I could be massively wrong :D).  Rora is fiercely protective of Aro and puts herself into any number of difficult and dangerous situations to prevent him from being harmed.  Scal is a young boy – either abandoned or orphaned – and found near a prison camp on the edges of the Northern territories.  Clearly of the Northmen race nobody is keen to take him in until a Priest in the camp takes pity and provides Scal with a safe home.  We have a former seeker now turned priest – Joros.  Joros lives beneath the mountain and has ambitions.  He plans to rise to the top and his ambitions leave him with a morale compass that lacks a few of the nicer character traits.  Joros is reluctantly accompanied by a Mage called Anddyr.  I say reluctantly because Anddyr seems to have been captured by one of the priests and reduced to a shadow of his former self by being forced into a drug dependent state that leaves him desperate for more of the foul paste that binds him to Joros.   Along the way we make the acquaintance of a priestess (Vatri) who, badly disfigured by fire, claims to be God chosen and sent to follow Scal on his travels.  Finally we have Keiro.  Also a former follower of the Fallen Keiro has been cast out of Mount Raturo.  He now wanders the land, still preaching to those who will listen and relentlessly searching.

The story arcs for most of these characters, barring one, eventually come together and an unlikely alliance is formed.

Whilst I do have some niggles with this book I think that Dunne has successfully written a story that will hook most readers and make them keen to continue the journey.  She has created a world of ambiguity really.  We’re not really totally sure about who are the good guys here.  Were The Parents very harsh for throwing their children out of heaven and binding them so cruelly – or were their actions justified and necessary in order to protect the world.  Are the followers of the Twins right to seek their resurrection?  There are certainly elements to their form of worship that give me pause for doubt – not only about their methods but also maybe their sanity!  What about the characters.  I’m not overly fond of most of them.  I liked Scal and could definitely read much more about his life but he still needs to be injected with a little more ‘something’ that I can’t quite put my finger on.  The Twins – well, again, they’re just lacking a little bit of spark that would take them from being good to read about to a winning combination.  Joros and Vatri are definitely not my favourite characters at the moment – they’re both quite obsessive characters who don’t have many redeeming streaks.  Keira, I like the journey that he takes us on and found his travels really interesting.  I’m a bit puzzled about what he’s got himself into though – time will tell.

I think the world building could do with adding to.  At the moment it all feels fairly generic  and the only thing that comes across is the religious aspects.  That being said there’s plenty of time for this to be developed and I suppose it stands to reason that the religious aspects would be primarily focused on for this type of story.  I would like a bit more background both for the places and the characters but again, I think it would have been easy to make this into a very wieldy book.  As it is I think this works very well as a set up book.  There’s plenty going on and no lack of pace and it will give readers a perfect platform to move onto the next instalment.

On the whole I think this is a promising start to a series I’m keen to find out more about.

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