Book Review: The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne


Title: The Shadow of the Gods (The Bloodsworn Saga #1)

Author: John Gwynne

Release date: May 4th, 2021

Typically, you’ll see 95% of my reviews focused on dark fiction – horror all encompassing. But, from time to time, I step into the worlds of Science Fiction and Fantasy. My history with Fantasy is limited – I do love my big two (for me at least): Patrick Rothfuss and George RR Martin. In fact, Rothfuss’ ‘The Name of the Wind’ was a massive slump buster for me almost a decade ago when I was struggling to find joy in reading again.

Saying that, lately, I’ve kind of ignored fantasy (even if I have a release (trilogy in progress) of my own in that genre) as I’ve not known where to turn. My brother-in-law, Devon, is a huge fan of R.A. Salvatore and his Drizzt novels, but I’ve looked and struggled to figure out where to dive in. On Twitter, Steven Gomzi has been raving about Gwynne for some time, and finally, seeing this AMAZING cover and a synopsis to match, I knew I needed to take the leap and dive in. Boy, was I happy to read this book. This is phenomenal storytelling on a grand scale. I personally loved how Gwynne was able to make me feel cold and dirt-crusted the entire time. As though I was there, alongside our three main characters throughout.

What I liked: A retelling of Norse Mythology, ‘The Shadow of the Gods’ takes place roughly 300 years after the Gods have all died out, we follow three characters as they journey in the same ‘direction,’ and that direction is vengeance.

Orka is a battle hardened woman, living with her husband and son, trying to let her boy grow up in peace, something they’ve not had much of. When her husband is murdered and her son is kidnapped, she takes off in search of him.

Elvar, the daughter of a Jarl (King), has fled her life and is now a warrior, wanting to make her way and be remembered in song, instead of being sold off to another Jarl to give them kids.

Varg, a thrall (slave) who is desperately seeking the aide of a witch to show him who killed his sister, so that he can avenge her death.

Gwynne switches between each storyline from chapter to chapter and it does two things really well – builds amazing tension AND frustrates the HECK out of the reader, but in the best way possible. Time and time again, we get a solid cliffhanger that in reality means, you have two chapters to get through before you return. And guess what? In those next two chapters, you’ll get two more cliffhangers and so on and so on. It made for truly captivating storytelling and as the reality of what is happening and where the story is going unfolds, the reader will be just as battered and bloodied as the characters we grow to root for.

The battle/action scenes here are stunning. Gwynne does an amazing job of bringing the action to life and it is described in cinematic swathes of blood and metal on armor.

Much like Martin, don’t believe any character is safe, but Gwynne does a great job of keeping his cards close and many of the unexpectedly character deaths were done phenomenally.

The ending sets up events for book two, which, in this case, I’m fortunate to have the book sitting there waiting for me on my Kindle!

What I didn’t like: Well, this is a fantasy novel, so always expect a ridiculous amount of food descriptions. Not as bad as Martin, but for once I’d love to see a passage read ‘they sat down for a dinner of duck and potatoes’ and not two paragraphs worth of food descriptions.

For me, the only thing that really grated on my nerves was the description of the head/brain as their ‘thought-cage.’ It made me chuckle at first and then became an annoyance when everything else is labelled/described as hand, arm, fingers etc.

Why you should buy this: ‘The Shadow of the Gods’ is really a perfect fantasy novel. Gwynne has created (recreated?) a stunning world where people are considered ‘tainted’ if they have blood of the Gods flowing through their veins and always looming is the stories and history of what those Gods did and what ultimately happened to them. This novel works as a pure fantasy read, or a really well done socioeconomic piece on current events. One can read it either way and truly get lost in the meanings behind everything, or simply enjoy it as a blood and battle epic.

My friend Steven Gomzi was spot on with this – Gwynne is truly a master and this series is second to none.

Amazing. And again, just look at that cover! And while you’re at it, look at the second book’s cover as well!


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