#REVIEW: The Shadow of the Gods, by John Gwynne

This. This is what I wanted.

Y’all know this; I’ve been pushing myself for the last several years to broaden my reading, both in the types of books I’m reading and the kinds of authors I was reading books from, and this year I kind of wanted to just step back and retreat into my comfort genres again. I’m still looking for new authors all the time, though, but I’m maybe a little more likely this year to buy a book where the cover is a giant fucking dragon threatening a warrior who is smaller than one of its teeth.

I mean, come the fuck on. Gimme.

I wasn’t previously familiar with John Gwynne’s work, but he’s been around for a while, and he’s clearly got enough pull with his publisher to be able to say “this is a trilogy” and know good and well that all three books are getting published. Because this particular first-book-of-the-Bloodsworn-trilogy is really clearly structured as the first book of several. It has three main protagonists, and none of them ever meet, although their stories knit together satisfyingly in the last pages, where the book throws a couple of curveballs (one of which I feel like I should have seen coming and didn’t) that set up wonderfully for the next book– which, conveniently, comes out pretty soon.

The setting: proto-Norse, set in an unspecified Cold North (actually, I don’t know for sure that they specify north, but definitely Cold) where nobody really bathes enough and everybody’s a badass and we call daggers seaxes and everyone carries an axe and a seax and if you see those words together enough they start blurring together, and there’s lots of words drawn from Middle English using weird letters, like niðing, which is pronounced “nithing,” and you may as well know know that that letter is pronounced eth and pronounced like a -th. There are monsters and trolls and little goblin-things that eat teeth and oh God it’s so good.

Oh, and the gods are all dead, and everybody’s pretty cool with that. So it’s sort of post-Ragnarok, although they don’t ever use that word (there are no direct references to any actual Norse mythology or history things, at least not that I noticed, although everything’s pretty clearly inspired by them; this is second-world fantasy.) And the greatest thing about it? I would forgive you if you were taking arch note of the fact that I’ve gone from deliberately reading books from all over the world and a year where I focused on books by women of color to singing the praises of a book set in, literally, the whitest place on Earth. To which I will point out the following delicious little detail about the book: it’s got this awesome subtle feminist thing going on, where most of the leaders are women, where two of the three main characters are women, and where as near as I can tell everything exists in a state of near-perfect gender equality. Nowhere is it even hinted that women aren’t just as able to be warriors as men are, and while there’s a subplot with one of the protagonists involving avoiding a forced marriage, the book actually does a pretty cool job of you have to do this because you’re the jarl’s kid and not you have to do this because you’re a gurrrrrrllllllll.

(I cannot think of a single place where a character’s skin color is explicitly described. I might be wrong about that, and I’d be happier if Gwynne had made it clear that some of his characters are people of color, but I’m also not the most careful reader in the world, so I might have missed something, and he definitely doesn’t go on about everybody being white, either.)

Anyway, I enjoyed this a hell of a lot. It’s not High Literature or anything but if you’re looking for a bloody fantasy romp with cool monsters and well-written combat and people eating from trenchers, you’ll like this series a lot. I can’t wait for the second book to come out in April. Check it out.

Published by

Luther M. Siler

The author of SKYLIGHTS, THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES and several other books.