Book Review: The Shadow of the Gods (The Bloodsworn Saga, #1) by John Gwynne

Book Review: The Shadow of the Gods (The Bloodsworn Saga, #1) by John Gwynne

Shadow of the Gods
The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher, Orbit Books, in exchange for an honest review.

The Shadow of the Gods was one of my most anticipated books of 2021. I adored both The Faithful and the Fallen and Of Blood and Bone in their entirety, and I couldn’t wait to see what new world Gwynne was going to create outside of the Banished Lands, which until this point had served as the setting for every novel he’s penned. And he didn’t disappoint. The Norse-inspired Vigrið is a fantastic setting, one I’m sure will only become more and more interesting as the series progresses. However, as with his previous series, the setting and premise might draw a reader in, but the characters are what keeps said reader invested.

Gwynne is a marvel at developing characters who it’s impossible not to care deeply about. Our three perspective characters, Orka, Elvar, and Varg, are all warriors with radically different motivations. Varg won me over the quickest, but his two female counterparts had just as much of my heart by the end of the book. Something I adored about this book was the complete lack of sexism. Women are just as likely to be badass warriors as men are, and men are never shocked by their female counterparts’ badassery. That’s one of my favorite elements of real Norse culture, and I was ecstatic to see it so well represented here.

I enjoyed Gwynne demonstrating how and why myths came to be, as characters use stories to explain natural phenomena. He does a wonderful job hinting at Norse mythology and culture without outright copying it. The Tainted, humans who carry the blood of a god and can exhibit animal characteristics, are fascinating, as are the magical creatures populating the land. This book includes the most terrifying take on tooth fairies I’ve ever read. I actually had nightmares about them.

While I really enjoyed The Shadow of the Gods, I honestly wish I would have waited just a bit longer to read it. But once I was the only Novel Notions writer who had yet to read it, I just couldn’t hold off any longer. The book was excellent, but I experienced exactly what I feared: battle fatigue. You can tell from the synopsis that this is a blood-saturated story, and I wasn’t quite up for it. By the middle of the book, I was growing mentally exhausted by the constant battles each main character was facing. That, combined with the fact that Gywnne’s series tend to start with a slow burn of an opening installment, kept me from adoring this book quite as much as I wanted to, though I still definitely loved it and will be reading the book 2 as soon as I can get my greedy little hands on it.

The Shadow of the Gods is a very promising start to what I’m sure is going to be another incredibly epic series from Gwynne. It’s a bit of a slow burn, though for many fantasy readers the constant bloodshed will more than make up for that. There were some surprising twists towards the end of the novel, and I really can’t wait to see what happens in the next installment. If you’ve never read Gwynne’s work, pick this one up and give him a try. And then please, I am begging you, catch up on his back catalogue. His two previous series are among the best I’ve read in the genre. They’re incredibly epic, and I truly believe they are must-reads for any epic fantasy fan.

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