ARC provided by the publisher—Orbit—in exchange for an honest review.
Cover art illustrated by: Marcus Whinney
The Hunger of the Gods by John Gwynne
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: The Bloodsworn Saga (Book #2 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, High Fantasy
Pages: 656 pages (Hardcover edition)
Published: 14th April 2022 by Orbit (UK) and 12th April 2022 by Orbit (US)
The Hunger of the Gods tempestuous final chapters have successfully prepared readers for the grand conclusion to come.
So here we are again, another year and another book by John Gwynne, one of my top favorite authors of all time. The Shadow of the Gods was one of the best books released in 2021 for me. The Hunger of the Gods, the second book in The Bloodsworn Saga, is my second most anticipated books—the first one belongs to The Lost Metal by Brandon Sanderson—of 2022. Before I talk about what worked so well for me in this continuation, it is mandatory for me to give my praises towards the publisher—Orbit Books—and the cover artist: Marcus Whinney. If you somehow haven’t seen the cover art of The Shadow of the Gods and The Hunger of the Gods, do it now. Orbit Books and Whinney has created another epic and distinctive cover seller. The scope of Lik-Rifa and Ulfrir in the cover arts is massive, and the realism looks downright stunning
Picture: The Hunger of the Gods by Marcus Whinney
Also, if it has been a while since you’ve read The Shadow of the Gods, Gwynne has included something handy and helpful for his readers, just proving even further that he cares about his readers. The first few pages of The Hunger of the Gods contained a detailed recap of The Shadow of the Gods, a character list and what happened to them before, plus Norse terminologies and pronunciations guide. These are all always wonderful to me. And I’ve said this repeatedly, a detailed recap should be a norm in a sequel in an SFF series. Any authors who include this section in their books have a bigger chance of me reading their sequel ASAP rather than putting them on a backlog until their series is completed first. Now, did The Hunger of the Gods live up to my high expectation? Mostly yes. Here’s my review on it, and I’m going to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. Other than the first three main POV characters of The Shadow of the Gods and one new POV or two supporting characters, I won’t mention any other characters’ names.
“When we die, it does not take long for us to go back to the ground, to become what we were, once the spark of life has left us. So I do this to remind me, of where we came from, of where we are headed, and that this life is fleeting. Best to make the most of it. To fight hard and fierce.”
The plotline in The Hunger of the Gods starts immediately from where The Shadow of the Gods ended. The three main POV characters—Orka, Varg, Elvar—from the first book have to deal with the aftermath of their respective conclusion. It is worth noting that the three main POV characters in The Shadow of the Gods didn’t have an intersection storyline or chapters until literally the last chapter of the book. In The Hunger of the Gods, the story, conflicts, and missions of Orka, Varg, and Elvar converged in several sections. Essentially, the three returning main characters embarked upon their own respective rescue mission. The themes of loneliness, found family, forgiveness, courage, glory, and leadership are still dominant in this brutal Norse-inspired fantasy world and series. However, Gwynne has added two new POV characters into The Hunger of the Gods, and I think they added the extra depth that the series needed. But before we get to that, I will tell you what I loved about Orka, Varg, and Elvar’s POV first.
“Real courage is to feel fear, but to stand and face it, not run from it.”
Orka and her story arc was easily the biggest highlight of The Shadow of the Gods for me. It was a simple revenge and rescue story executed magnificently. With that book alone, Orka has become one of my favorite characters in fantasy. It should not come as a surprise that I continue to enjoy reading Orka’s POV chapters immensely. Almost every moment of being inside her head was so delightful. Seeing her incredible strength and determination to protect what she loves remains inspiring. Technically, a few moments aside, Orka did not develop much as a character. Considering her relatively older age, prowess, and expertise in war, she was already ahead in wisdom (when she’s not too pissed, at least) compared to many other characters in the series. But I just loved reading about the relationships she built with the other supporting characters. Plus, the battle scenes in her chapters—especially the final few chapters—were utterly breathtaking. Also, I am a big fan of the God of War video games. Whether it’s the Greek-mythology original trilogy or the newly released Norse-mythology one, I think they’re all masterwork in video games. And I know John Gwynne and his family are all fans of the Norse-mythology God of War video game, too. That’s why it genuinely made me happy to see this nod to the video game.
“I am sorry,” Lif said.
“Do not be sorry,” Orka growled, “be better.”
Gif: “Do not be sorry, be better.” From God of War
But enough about Orka, you all know how much I loved her chapters already. Let’s talk a bit about Varg and the Bloodsworn before we move on to talking about Elvar. If you’ve read The Shadow of the Gods, then you will know that the theme of friendship and found family shines the most in Varg’s and Elvar’s chapters. This is still the same case here. Although his chapters were relatively less intense for the majority of the book, I think Gwynne has successfully nailed the balance of see-saw in the calm and the intense moments in Varg’s POV chapters. Remember Svik’s cheese story in The Shadow of the Gods, another one regarding how life is not fair made a return here, and it was a great chapter, though less humorous, for sure. All of this does not mean that Varg’s chapters were devoid of pulse-pounding battle scenes. It’s fewer than Gwynne’s usual standard, but the Gwynnado in the middle part of the novel that revolved around his chapters were unputdownable.
“Brother. How have I had such good fortune to find these people, after so many years of loneliness and pain?”
Elvar was the main character that took me longer than the other characters to feel invested in The Shadow of the Gods. However, I knew from the last quarter, and the end of the first novel, that she’s going to be a crucially important character in The Bloodsworn Saga, and The Hunger of the Gods proved that. Elvar’s starting and concluding chapters in this book were impactful. Witnessing how much she has developed since her first chapter in The Shadow of the Gods was undeniably satisfying to me. The theme of leadership was strong in Orka’s chapters, but it’s even more evident in Elvar and the Battle-Grim’s story. Also, following the epic bloodbath in the conclusion of Elvar’s story in The Shadow of the Gods, the calamity and destruction displayed in the last few chapters of Elvar’s story in this book were Gwynne’s epic and thrilling battle scenes at their best.
“Life is a knife’s edge, and all can change with the thrust of a blade.”
As you can probably guess, Orka, Varg, and Elvar’s chapters were compelling for me. How about the two new POV characters? Well, I’m glad Gwynne decided to add them into this book. Having villain’s POV chapters was one of the key ingredients that made The Banished Lands Saga brilliant. These two new POV characters added an extra layer to the narrative. And one of the things I appreciate most about one of the new POV characters—Gudvarr—is this, Gwynne is doing something new that he has never done before with Gudvarr’s inner voice. By this, I mean that Gwynne is emulating what one of my favorite authors and series of all time did, and that is Joe Abercrombie’s style on Sand dan Glokta and Jezal dan Luthar in The First Law trilogy. The arrogance, pettiness, cowardice, and humor somehow made Gudvarr an intriguing character. This is good, especially considering how much I disliked his actions. But the contrast between his actions and inner thoughts was well done. It may not be Abercrombie’s level yet—to be fair, no one can do what Abercrombie did with Glokta—but I am pleased to see Gwynne trying out new things and making it work. Take a look at these two passages, for example:
‘“It’s rude,” Gudvar muttered, “and would not be so brave and foolish as to insult me if those bars were not there to protect it.”
I’m glad those bars are there to protect me, he thought.”’
“Are you Gudvarr?” the man asked him.
How do you know that? As if I would tell you, you sniveling oaf.
The man’s eyes bored into him with a fierce intensity.
“Yes,” he rasped.
These are the kind of passages you’ll get with Gudvarr’s POV chapters. Reminiscent of Glokta, right?
So now you might wonder, why did I not give a 5 stars rating to The Hunger of the Gods? After all, I gave all of these praises already. And despite it having fewer battle scenes than Gwynne’s standard in his sequels, the Gwynnado in the middle section and the final 15% of the novel were excellent as always. However, I also have to admit that The Hunger of the Gods felt like it’s filled with the infamous middle book syndrome in several sections. Remember, this is still a superb book for me. I loved all the character’s POV chapters. But at roughly 210k words and more than 600 pages long, it seems like almost the entirety of the novel revolved around them (all the POV characters) traveling. They travel to one place, they do something there briefly. And then they travel again to another destination, and then they do something again. I loved all the characters, the battles, and the Norse-mythology world plus creatures, but having these traveling sections repeated until the end of the novel did get tiresome at times. I strongly encourage you to use the map provided at the front of the book. It’s easy to forget where each POV character is going because everyone was constantly traveling to a place before moving on to travel again.
“To grieve is to be trapped in a world of loneliness.”
I am grieving. Giving John Gwynne’s newest book anything below 5 stars literally pains me. Other than Malice, which I gave a 4.5 stars rating just like this book, I gave all of his other books a 5 stars rating. But as we all know already, none of our top favorite authors can keep a 5/5 stars track record lasting forever. I still love this book so much. My minor issue with the pacing aside, The Hunger of the Gods have furious battle scenes, savage display of power, intricate world-building, and well-written characters. A new age of gods and swords has dawned on Vigrid. If you are familiar with Norse mythology, I doubt it will be difficult for you to predict where the story will go or end up since The Shadow of the Gods. Despite this, The Hunger of the Gods proved to be another marvel written by Gwynne. I needed the third and final book yesterday. And just for fun, I predict the third book of the trilogy will be titled The Battle of the Gods or The War of the Gods.
“Svik should be more like me… He should make a stone of his heart.”
“I can see that would help avoid the pain of betrayal, true enough, but it also stops you feeling the joy of friendship or love.”
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
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