Man, I’m gonna misspell everything in this article. I’m so sorry, John Gwynne.
In recent years, I’ve developed a strong fascination with Norse mythology. And no, not just because of the new God of War games (though I’ll admit those played a large part in my growing interest). It’s just such a badass mythos with some truly interesting and/or hilarious legends that don’t often get explored in literature, at least not in my experience.
So imagine my delight when I found a fantasy book trilogy that is so heavily inspired by Norse mythos that it feels like an actual Viking wrote it!
Long ago, the gods went to war with each other and drove themselves to extinction. Now, humanity dwells within their bones and fight to survive in a cold world inhabited by horrific creatures. Deep in the mountains, Orca and her husband and son discover a growing threat of child stealers in the area. After escaping from a life of slavery, Varg seeks out a way to glean information on his sister’s death, ending up as a recruit for a mercenary band called the Bloodsworn. Elvar sails with the Battlegrim, and their most recent job may lead them to an ancient city of legend in which untold riches dwell. Unknown to any of these three, the world is changing, and the shadow of the gods is beginning to grow darker.
This book features some truly phenomenal character writing. You won’t find anything you haven’t seen before in regards to character arcs (at least, not until the second book), but they’re all extremely well-executed. Orca is basically a female Kratos and her story is incredibly exciting, filled with interesting twists and turns. Varg is the most likable of the three, as he exposes us to the treasure trove that is the Bloodsworn; not since Stormlight Archive’s Bridge 4 have I been so emotionally attached to a band of misfits (Svik is the best, he’s just a cheese-obsessed asshole with a heart of gold and I love him). Elvar is the least interesting to me, as her plot is by far the slowest, but she does get the best climax of the three.
Of course, a hero can’t truly shine without a villain. Unfortunately, it won’t be until the next book that we really start to see our antagonists get developed. They do their job in this book incredibly well, being suitably mysterious and dangerous and constantly doing our protagonists harm in one way or another. And it’s not like we’re devoid of enemies to hate; Gudvarr is one of the most fun people to hate that I’ve met in a book in a long time! Still, even he doesn’t get that much development until later.
But all of that is for next week.
Now, let’s talk about the setting. The world this book takes place in is one of the coolest and most interesting that I’ve come across in fiction in a long time! People build their homes beneath the skeletons of the gods, all manner of genuinely grotesque and nightmarish monsters roam the land, and we’ve even got some mysterious and interesting magic at play! It’s a really cool setting and every little detail that we’re drip-fed over the course of the book about its culture or its other inner workings is incredible!
On top of all of that, this book is brutal! This has some of the most bloody fight scenes I’ve ever read! When someone gets hit, you can feel how much it hurts! From massive battles of tactics to one-on-one street fights, every clash in this book is a thing of combative beauty!
Although the one with the troll was more hilarious than anything. How am I supposed to keep a straight face when the book keeps describing how the troll’s church-bell like testacles keep swinging around?!
Troll nutsacks aside, I would highly recommend reading The Shadow of the Gods. It’s an incredible start to what is quickly becoming one of my new favorite fantasy trilogies of all time. If you love Norse-inspired work, great characters, and badass action scenes, this is the book for you.
And now, I get to write about the second book. Which, somehow, is even better!