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Review: The Bloodsworn Saga 01 – The Shadow of the Gods

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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, synopsis

The Shadow of the Gods Review

I received an arc in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley and Orbit.

I’m a big fan of Norse-inspired TV and books, like Vikings, and The Last Kingdom. I also love dragons. So, when I saw this book on NetGalley I just had to request it. And look at that cover! I’ve ordered a signed copy of this which is going to look great in my collection!

The Shadow of the Gods is the first book in John Gwynne’s new series The Bloodsworn Saga and, in short, it’s a masterpiece. The land, Vigrio, was once populated by gods who warred and battled themselves into extinction. In the present day, besides a variety of mystical beings, Vigrio is populated by humans and the tainted: humans who possess abilities due to having a god’s blood running through their veins–there are several gods and therefore types of tainted with varying abilities. The tainted are viewed as outcasts to be hunted, killed, and enslaved. They are a reminder of the gods battling and shattering the land.

The tale is told from three main POVs: Orka, Varg, and Elvar. Orka’s story is one of vengeance and retribution, she is a bit of a mystery for part of the novel. She clearly has high-level skills as a warrior and hunter, skills she needs as her story progresses, but her bloodlust is kept in check by her husband, Thorkell, who I also loved. Thorkell is also clearly a highly skilled warrior, yet calm and calculated, and with a very soft heart for his wife and their son, Breca. He’s also a little mysterious and there was a very unexpected reveal late in the book, which brought different story arcs together. Similarly, Orka, while being capable of vicious acts of violence, is driven by her love for Thorkell and Breca. Then there are two ‘pets’ (of sorts) of the family, both mystical beings and very dangerous, but who followed the theme of family. They fight for it and are loyal.

“I am blood. I am death. I am vengeance.”

Our second protagonist is Varg, an ex-Thrall (slave), later to be known as Varg No-sense—I do love some of the names in this book, like Fire-fist, Half-troll, and Skullsplitter. Varg’s story is also one of seeking vengeance, for the murder of his sister. He has sworn to find her killer and exact revenge, but he needs to know who did it, and for that he needs a person with a special ability, one who can show the final moments of a person’s life. Varg’s story isn’t just of vengeance though, it’s also one of finding friendship and no longer beings alone. It’s interesting seeing how he deals with this and the thoughts he has over whether he is betraying his sister by being happy and forging a new life with the Bloodsworn—a talented group of warriors for hire, who also possess a closely guarded secret.

“Get moving, Varg No-sense… Or are you waiting for an eagle to swoop down and carry you the rest of the way?”

Our final protagonist is Elvar, whose story arc I thought was the weakest as it took a while for me to get invested in her and the Battle-Grim. Not that I didn’t enjoy her chapters, I did, and they really took off later on when a few secrets were revealed, and I understood more about the world. It just took a while for her real persona to come through the hard exterior she had created around herself in the story. To be truthful it’s great storytelling and I was a little impatience! As characters in the book cracked her shell a little, as they learned more about her past, so did we, and she unravelled a little more to us. Elvar’s story is about Battle-fame, but also proving herself, proving she could succeed without her family, proving she was more than a chip to be bartered for political gain.

“Men die, Women die, all creatures of flesh and blood die, but battle-fame survives. To become a song, a saga-tale told from generation to generation. That way we will live forever. That is what I want, what all of us want.”

The pace of The Shadow of the Gods is quick, you don’t get many moments to take a breath, but they do exist and play an important part. All our protagonists are on journeys through the wilderness and therefore there are plenty of opportunities for sitting around a campfire, or in a mead hall, and reflecting on life and the challenges ahead. Gwynne takes these opportunities to build relationships between characters.

Back to the pacey sections though… on their journeys we are treated to gloriously written epic battle scenes, we feel the struggles of the mind and body, learn harsh lessons, and stare down at certain death. At times, our heartstrings are played like violins. We are blown away with wonderfully rich, atmospheric world building; revel in the beauty and dangers of Vigrio and bask in the vivid detail of the various environments our protagonists find themselves in. Oh, and they three story arcs converge for what is an outstanding finale that will having you circling the release date of book two!

‘Battle-fame is nothing; it is chaff on the wind. Bonds of love, of kinship, of passion, of friendship: that is what we should all be yearning for.’