Overview (No Spoilers):
The Shadow of the Gods is hands down, one of the best fantasy books I’ve read in a very long time. Upon finishing a book I usually pick up the next in my queue immediately, however after this first installment of the Bloodsworn Saga I couldn’t bring myself to start a new book for several days. I was in such a book hangover, just wanting Gwynne’s story to continue. Thankful I read The Shadow of the Gods with only a few months wait for The Hunger of the Gods release. I’m feeling more impatient for an impending book release than I have in a long time. Gwynne taps into many of my favorite reading preferences, especially in fantasy, e.g., plethora of details, fantastic world building, strong female characters, unexpected reveals, and engaging storytelling. Needless to say, I was drawn in immediately and couldn’t stop listening.
I’m not typically a reader who is drawn to a book by the cover alone, but The Shadow of the Gods cover art by Marcus Whinney deserves a specific shout out. The closer I look at the dragon, there’s new stunning details that appear the longer one inspects the cover. Every time I picked up this novel I noticed a new detail that I’d overlooked.
The Shadow of the Gods follows three brilliantly crafted characters who were on very different paths. Poor Varg’s chapters were my favorite as the former thrall finds himself consumed with fulfilling sworn vengeance, only to end up on a wild journey that leaves him routinely astonished at his turn of fortune. The two remaining main characters are the powerful, strong warrior women, Orka and Elvar. Elvar is a young mercenary focused building her battle fame and legend, whereas Orka is more of a mystery. Despite glimpses of the warrior underneath, Orka is living a peaceful, isolated life with her family, though her two sides often seem at odds. Family is definitely a theme for all three of these characters, but it takes on different forms, e.g., loyalty, found vs. blood, toxicity, and great loss.
In addition to crafting distinct and complex characters, Gwynne has built a delightfully detailed but unforgiving world in Vigrio. Looming heavy throughout was the legend of Guofalla, a battle of the gods approximately 300 years ago that essentially broke the world and put a new power in place that seeks to eliminate all remaining magic. The magical system takes the form of the descendants of the gods and mortals, leading to the ‘tainted’ individuals being ruthlessly hunted down, killed or enslaved. The anti magic faction is ok using magic as long as it suits their purposes but the prejudice is strong when magic is derived through blood. I found the timeline to be intriguing with regard to this legendary battle taking place in the relatively recent past instead of being so far removed as to be ancient history.
A small aside, but I want us all to start using the term ‘thought cage’ when referencing our head or brain. I think I giggled every time Gwynne used it, which was often. It was just a small change but significant to help the reader acclimate and be drawn into this literary world.
In addition to the legend of the gods and the powers of their many times removed offspring, this brutal world is filled with vaesan, or perhaps more commonly called monsters that leap from mythology and Gwynne’s imagination. The Shadow of the Gods has very heavy Norse and Viking connections, and while my knowledge in this topic is passable, I’m by no means fluent in its intricacies. I could make some connections but many terms and creatures were unfamiliar, especially as I willfully decided to stay blissfully unaware of real Norse inspirations. This lack of knowledge in no way took away from the enjoyment of the story as a whole, as I wasn’t pulled out of the story to Google unknown terms.
Animal sidekicks are always a boon to a story, and Gwynne takes this a step further with little, terrifying vaesan. Their inclusion brightened the story every time they popped up, and served to add a bit of empathy to creatures who were in general reduced to scary, dangerous monsters throughout.
I found that many of the deaths or grievous injuries were foreshadowed by sentimental exchanges, however it didn’t make the actual loss any less difficult to read. That said, I was totally blindsided by the brilliant plot twist at the end that tied up so many loose ends, leaving me shocked and delighted at the revelation in equal measures. Seriously, that scene alone was masterfully crafted, from the imagery to the exchange that caused so many knots to instantly unravel.
Overall, in The Shadow of the Gods , Gwynne has established an intriguing fantasy world, steeped in magic, legends, and battles, with the key political players still pulling strings from the wings and their full motivations yet to be revealed. My ‘thought cage’ has been mulling over the action packed final chapters and their implications for the soon to be released follow up, The Hunger of the Gods.
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- Talk about an action packed ending. I’m totally serious about the spoilers so forgo reading if you would like to avoid them.
- The scene where the Bloodsworn enter the smoking keep to find Orka sitting, surrounded by children and covered in blood was not only intense imagery, but the surprise only amplifies as we then find out that she was their old leader, Skullsplitter, and Throkel the brother of the current leader. So many puzzle pieces suddenly fit together with this revelation.
- Will they find the wife of the current leader of the Bloodsworn? What made her so powerful?
- I loved the bond between Elvar and Grend, and though it was an interesting twist it seemed a bit distracting to find out she was actually the equivalent of a princess. What did her father think of her leaving?
- What will happen to the Battle Grim now that Agnar was betrayed and murdered? While it was obvious that there was more to Biorr, how did he keep his secret from the Battle Grim?
- Poor Thorkel! His death was definitely foreshadowed with the conversations leading up to that terrible scene but it didn’t make it any easier.
- I’d wondered if Varg was Tainted but it seems like he would have already known that. How does the Thrall collar work if you don’t have god’s blood in you?
- What is the plan for the children now that they’ve helped release Lik-Rifa?
- Did Breca survive?
- What was Queen Helka’s son’s goal in all of this? Does she know?
- More impressive imagery from Gwynne with the city of Snakavik that was literally built in the jaws of a dead god’s jaws.
- I was so very excited when Spert and Vesli made their return. How were they able to track Orka?
- I believe it was during Svik’s troll story that I fully appreciated how engaged I was in this novel and that I didn’t want the story to end.
- What will Lik-Rifa do now that they are free? There are no other gods alive to even keep it in check.
- Mord and Lif were interesting baggage for Orka, which I had initially thought was unnecessary until Mord was murdered. Cue all the unjust rage for a character I didn’t particularly even enjoy.