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Book Review: Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne

Title: Shadow of the Gods

Author: John Gwynne

Series: Bloodsworn Saga #1

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: After the gods warred and drove themselves to extinction, the cataclysm of their fall shattered the land of Vigrið. Now a new world is rising, where power-hungry jarls feud and monsters stalk the woods and mountains. A world where the bones of the dead gods still hold great power for those brave – or desperate – enough to seek them out. Now, as whispers of war echo across the mountains and fjords, fate follows in the footsteps of three people: a huntress on a dangerous quest, a noblewoman who has rejected privilege in pursuit of battle fame, and a thrall who seeks vengeance among the famed mercenaries known as the Bloodsworn. All three will shape the fate of the world as it once more falls under the shadow of the gods . . . –Goodreads

The Review:

Even though Shadow of the Gods came highly praised, I went in really apprehensive. To start with, I wasn’t sure I was in the mood for a Norse-inspired indigenous story even if it did promise a little magic. I’m also skeptical anytime something gets as much hype as this book has. But color me surprised:

The book was every bit as good as people say it is.

It’s a slow burn, but one that had me engaged from the beginning. Gwynne is such a thoughtful writer. He has all of these cool story ideas (many things I’ve never seen done well before) but instead of hitting you over the head with endless explanations, he lets you experience them naturally, revealing information in careful increments every few chapters that continually nurtured my investment in the story throughout the entire thing. It was brilliantly done. And I can’t wait to see where all of those careful reveals will take me in the next book.

The story bounced pretty evenly between three POVs. Two I liked right out of the gate, the other one took me until halfway through the book before I was fully invested. These were great characters to follow. Perhaps on the extreme ends of human behavior based on the harsh circumstances of the book, but more or less relatable in their earnest humanity. I especially loved the female characters and more and more appreciate Gwynne for how he writes them. Being a strong female in a fantasy series is not something that has to be highlighted as remarkable or unusual in this series. They’re just unapologetically badass and I loved it. It’s awesome to see intelligent characters who can think through situations, but are still flawed and prone to mistakes. It’s a hard balance to strike, but Gwynne managed well.

The world-building in this book was unlike anything I’ve read before. It was so subtle, almost on the periphery of the story, yet at the same time completely integral to the plot. Even though I didn’t learn as much as I wanted to in this first book, I can see how solid the baseline is for everything – Gwynne has my complete trust to deliver on all these cool ideas in future books.

The only thing I have to note is the pacing. I remember thinking around the halfway point that it’s a good thing I’m heavily invested in the characters and the plot because things are sooo slow right now. Then on the flip side, because the story bounces between the three POVs, when things started careening at the end, it was an oddly disjointed feeling to bounce between stories climaxing at different rates (there’s a joke in there somewhere), so the momentum of the book as a whole was a bit off for me. But that’s a minor complaint for sure.

Recommendations: this is an awesome slow-burn, character-driven fantasy. I loved everything from the flowing writing to the careful plot construction to the great characters to the subtle yet powerful world-building (it’s a square of appreciation). The book worked for my on every account. It seems like those I’ve seen struggle with it had issues with the slow pacing which means they probably weren’t invested in the characters. So if you can find a connection early, you’ll probably love the book as much as I did.

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