If you didn’t get a chance to look at my top 10 most anticipated books of 2021, let me spoil it for you: This book was number one on it. I have been a massive John Gwynne fan ever since reading his Faithful and Fallen series (and the follow up Of Blood and Bones trilogy), and I absolutely could not wait to see what he would craft once he set his sights on a new world, story and characters.
I won’t make you wait for it. This book blew my mind. I didn’t have any expectations other than to be completely captivated by it, and exceed said expectations it did. This Norse mythology inspired tale is one following the paths of three main characters and their individual adventures, forging their way toward glory, revenge or redemption. Each one of these characters have their own distinct voices, in a very Gwynne fashion. By which I mean I always feel a familiarity with them, and I root for each and every one of them with everything I have almost right from the start. He makes me care about his characters in ways I have very rarely experienced in novels. I don’t want to give you much more details on them than what is currently known from the synopsis as I think one of the best parts is to get to know them more as the story flows forward.
The Faithful and the Fallen is probably my favorite fantasy series of the last 20 years (if not it is top 2 for sure), but the only small, tiny thing I would have changed was to incorporate a bit more magic in the fabric of the story. In Shadow of the Gods, Gwynne steps up his magic game in a big way and it is glorious to behold. Someone with his expert talent for breathtaking, epic battle scenes injecting a heftier dose of magic into the mix really takes things to another level. The magic is present in more ways than one and it truly deepens the lore of this harsh, brutal world. I’ve always had a particular interest for shapeshifting magic and, well, let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised.
Like I said before, we follow the narrative of three different characters, and while this is the lowest number of point of views Gwynne has used in his books so far, I felt it was perfectly balanced. It really gave me the time to grow my interest for each of them and their individual stories. It’s funny because sometimes it can feel like you are reading three different books with the only common thread being the continent where they are all taking place, and yet slowly but surely, these characters inadvertently journey towards one another. That is always a huge hook for me, the tantalizing possibility of your heroes finally coming face to face, for better or worst. This is another aspect of storytelling where Gwynne exceeds, in my opinion.
Gwynne’s love and passion for Norse mythology and Beowulf legend really transpires in his story and world-building here. Even I, who have only ever known about Norse lore what TV has tough me, was able to immediately recognize this world as steeped in viking flavour and Norse legends. The language used in his dialogues and to describe certain specific world elements is clearly influenced by those inspirations and really helped me immerse myself in his narrative.
There is nothing more satisfying then waiting for something for a long time and finally getting the that magical moment where you get to experience it. Being able to finally sit down with this book, read the first page and actually savour each and every chapter has been pure delight. I usually try to read my books in a quick fashion as there are so many I want to get to, but once in a blue moon, I do the exact opposite . I purposefully take my time and take breaks from it, even when I crave more, just to make the experience last longer. This is what I did with this book, taking my time to enjoy each moment to the fullest, all the way to the Gwynnado (as my pal Petrik would say) of action in the last few chapters, and to the reveal on the last page. And boy, was it ever worth it. Book 2 cannot come fast enough.
Score: 10/10 – Masterpiece