I received an Advanced Reader Copy from Orbit books in exchange for an honest review. It is a rare experience in life when a novel renders me speechless and in awe of what is to come. Only two authors have had this effect on me and they are the pillars of the fantasy genre: George R.R Martin and Brandon Sanderson. John Gwynne has done this to me on THREE separate occasions upon the completion of his books and the Shadow of the Gods brings it up to four. Deeply inspired by Norse Mythology following the events of Ragnarok and also inspired by Beowulf. The story is epic both in scope and execution, the battle scenes will leave you on the edge of your seat, and the characters will move to the top of your best in the genre for years to come. I’m not kidding, the book is that good with the dread and brutality of the battle plain, you may need to bring some protection of your own to sleep. The hype is real my friends!
Since this book hasn’t been released yet, I will be as generic as I possible can when describing the world. Vigrio is a land of blood, warbands and the survival of the fittest. The gods are dead, killed by their own hands and that of their kin three hundred years ago, but the gods remains still provide magic to the people of Vigrio used for good and evil. The land of Vigrio is divided into several cities each run by a Jarl who provides the people with protection in exchange for loyalty, taxes, and troops for the army. The way the Jarls provide protection is with their Tainted warriors. The Tainted are humans who have the blood of the gods running through their veins and have the ability to use magic depending on which god they descend from. I don’t want to go into spoilers on what these magical abilities are but I will describe one very cool blood rage effect. If you are descended from the bear god, you become a berserker and will fight your opponents in a benevolent rage. The way the Jarls control the Tainted is with a magical neck chain that suppresses their abilities. The Tainted are hunted throughout the land by warbands and sold into slavery as thralls to do the bidding of the Jarls, whom are on the edge of war.
We follow three POV characters in this novel and each one is better than the next. The first character we follow is Elvar, a solder in the Battle-Grim warband looking for spoils, honor, and to hunt the tainted throughout Vigrio. Elvar has a long history she is looking to run away from and on one of her mission to recover a Tainted being, she discovers just how dark the magic of the gods can be. The next POV we follow is Varg, wanted for murder and looking for answers to the death of his sister, but he needs the magic of a Tainted. His travels take him to Liga where the only way he can access the Tainted is to become a member of the Bloodsworn warband. Varg’s story takes us through training, battles, great character moments, and a hilarious side story about cheese. Yes, you read that correctly. Fans of John Gwynne’s battle scenes in his previous works will love Varg.
Finally we come to my favorite character of the book, Orka. Orka lives a quiet life with her husband and young son Breca. Orka teaches Breca all the tools needed to survive in Vigrio as it is a dark and cruel place. There are rumblings of children disappearing land and Orka is summoned to Felur to discuss the preparations for a potential confrontation with other Jarls and warbands. Orka’s story will take you down one of the best character arc’s you will read in any fantasy story. She is smart, instinctual, well trained, but vengeful in her endeavors. Orka will ripe your heart our without batting an eyelash if you are standing in her way and she has the best quote in the book “I am blood, I am death, I am vengeance.” If this doesn’t get your heart rate to jump, then I don’t know what will.
The world building in this world is excellent. Even though the gods are dead, their bones are still left behind and the people use them to create runes to shield them from deadly creatures. Several of the fortresses in Vigrio are build on the bones of the dead gods and it was bone chilling to read if you think about it. The adrenaline rush John Gwynne will give you upon entering a battle no other author has come close to matching. The characters will steal your heart and squeeze it every so gently to remind you of the dreadful land they live in. John Gwynne will also drop shocking twists and revelations you will not see coming! Fans of his will already know this, but for all you new readers, BEWARE!
John Gwynne has written another classic and easily one of the best books of the year. In fact, this is my favorite entry book to any series he has written. If you have not read anything by John Gwynne, The Shadow of the Gods is the perfect place to start and it will only leave you wanting more. John Gwynne has cemented himself as my favorite author in the fantasy genre and if he isn’t on your radar now, he will be!