Review : The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne

Battle-fame is nothing; it is chaff on the wind. Bonds of love, of kinship, of passion, of friendship: that is what we should all be yearning for.

  • Release date : May 4th 2021
  • Publishing house : Orbit
  • Series : Bloodsworn Saga
  • Pages : 496

Spoilers ahead

Characters :

Varg : He’s been seeking vengeance on those who killed his sister when both were thralls working on a farm. Fleeing from the son of his master (whom he killed after he broke a promise), he decided to join the ranks of the Bloodsworn so that their Seiðr witch could perform a ritual allowing him to see the last moments of her sister’s death to see who murdered her. To join them, he has to fight a guy called Einar the Half-Troll to see if he possesses enough skills to be part of them.

I’ve loved his chapters because Varg finally found place where he belongs and people he can call family. These notions were amongst those which stood out the most in the whole book. In the end, it turns out that all the members were Tainted (people who have the blood of gods flowing in them) and so he is. There were some evidences all along the book but it really was at the end of the book we know that he is Úlfhéðnar (wolf).

That is why we fight so hard for each other. We do not abandon the living. We do not abandon those we have sworn oaths to.

Elvar : She’s part of a mercenary group called the Battle-Grim and has been fighting for them for three years to make a name for herself. It took me a few chapters to warm to her and I think it was when she came back home that we began to know more about her desires. She’s in fact the daughter of a jarl who fled as her father wanted her to marry Queen Heska’s son to forge a new alliance. She refused to be a pawn in her father’s game and chose to embrace freedom and fame. In a sense, she looks like Varg as both of them found a family in which they can grow.

Men die, Women die, all creatures of flesh and blood die, but battle-fame survives. To become a song, a saga-tale told from generation to generation. That way we will live forever. That is what I want, what all of us want.

Orka : She’s been living quietly with her son Breca and her husband Thorkell in a steading outside of the town. She and her husband are ex-warriors who seemed to have a heavy past. After a series of missing children, their steading is attacked after she went to see one the spirits in the forest. When she came back, their « pets » are on the ground almost dead while Thorkell have enough time to tell her what happened before his death. Out of the three characters, I think it was her that was my least favourite. In fact, I cared more about her husband and was quite sad when he was killed. She is still an enjoyable character especially when she has been trying to strike a balance between her roles of mother and warrior.

When gods go to war, it is no small thing. The world was broken in their ruin.

Story :

I was thrilled from the get-go when the cover was revealed. Then, I read the summary and it piqued my interest ! If you love Vikings, fantasy and Norse mythology, then this book will be up your street.

It was my first time reading a book by John Gwynne and seeing all the good things I’ve read about his other series and this first book, I really was eager to read this book. And while, I enjoyed the read, there were still some things I wanted to point out, well one thing especially.

We all have our scars, and not all of them are etched in our skin.

All along the book, I could fell a true passion for history, Vikings and mythology ! I could really picture myself what they were wearing, the places they were in, in short all the cultural aspects. I also had to look up several words as my knowledge of Norse mythology was scant.

This book has a lot of strengths : its rich worldbuilding and its compelling characters. The last few chapters were really above the rest, especially when one member of the Battle-Grim (Elvar’s lover) was in fact a traitor and a Tainted (a descendant of Rotta, the betrayer, deceiver, trickster) working for the enemy and killed Agnar, leader of the Battle-Grim and mentor of Elvar. The rise of the dragon god and the battle with the guardians were also magnificent. The only negative aspect was for me the slow pace of the first part of the story.

Note : 4.5 sur 5.

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