Book Review : The Shadow of the Gods

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : The Shadow of the GodsThe Shadow of the Gods (The Bloodsworn Saga, #1) by John Gwynne
Published by Orbit on May 4th 2021
Pages: 496
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Source: NetGalley

The Gods are dead. The world is broken.
The old Gods have fought themselves to extinction, their remains scattered across the battleground of a fractured land, where monsters roam and humans are most definitely not the apex predator.
From the ashes of this cataclysm a new world must be forged, territories carved out and ruled over by new Jarls, petty kings and queens, all hungry for power. No matter what the cost.
And there is power to be found within the remains of the gods – their bones, their weapons and jewels, and their off-spring. The half-breed children of Gods and humans, gifted with powers that make them a fearsome enemy – and a desirable prize.
Mercenary bands form, hired to search out these relics, remains and God-children, competing against one another for the most powerful, seeking to sell them to the highest bidder. Power doesn’t come cheap.

The Shadow of the Gods is a fantasy novel that takes place in a Norse mythology inspired world. It is narrated by three different characters, Orka, Varg, and Elvar. The world is filled with mythological beasts, and tainted people, descended from old gods and imbued with some of their powers and traits. All of the elements of a perfect fantasy novel are there, but I found that no matter how much I wanted to, I just couldn’t love this novel. 


“When gods go to war, it is no small thing. The world was broken in their ruin.”


 I was most interested in everything regarding the old gods. These ancient beings were descended from the great snake god Snaka, and fought each other tooth and nail until they almost destroyed the entire world. The remains of these gods, bestow powers to their holders. Their descendants, known as the tainted, have some of their powers. Feared for their powers, they are enslaved by other people, with collars adorning their necks and forcing them to obey their masters. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of time dedicated to these gods, despite one adorning the cover of the novel. In fact, most of The Shadow of the Gods reads like a mere build up for future entries in the series and the gods don’t appear until the very end of the novel.  Likewise, the connections of the characters aren’t revealed until the very end as well.


“But the Tainted, they chose to fight, wanted to fight, just as their cursed parents did….Cursed blood flows in them. That is why when mankind rose from the ashes of the Guðfalla they swore to hunt out any of the gods who survived the gods-fall, and to hunt out their seed, their mingling with humankind.”


Like many fantasy novels, The Shadow of the Gods has a huge cast of characters. However, there are only three narrators in the story, which is pretty unique with a large cast. Varg and Elvar, two of the narrators, are members of Viking-esque war bands filled with other characters. I had so much trouble keeping them all apart, not only with their Norse names, but also especially since there was no appendix or glossary of characters. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel very motivated to keep them straight, as the only character I found I could care about was Orka. I just couldn’t like Varg, a former thrall (slave), who ends up as a member of the Bloodsworn, or Elvar, a prized member of the Battle Grim. In fact, I dreaded every time the point-of-view switched to Varg, as he seemed like such a simple creature, with not very much to him, to me.


“Relics had power: all knew that. Queen Helka had risen to her high seat in so short a time because she had unearthed Orna’s skeleton, the wings of the giant eagle spreading wide over Helka’s fortress at Darl.”


Varg reads to me like the exact carbon copy of the fantasy trope of a small town farmer, or in this case, a former slave, who has more to him than meets the eye. To me, he lacked any real defining characteristics or development. And Elevar doesn’t stray far from the trope either, with her secret privilege, devoted follower, and poor taste in men. Orka, on the other hand, was a cut above the rest to me, even with her rather single minded quest for vengeance, and sometimes cringeworthy and trite oaths of revenge to highlight it. She was the only character I could get invested in, and I found myself fervently wishing that The Shadow of the Gods was just about her, her past, her family and life on their steading, as well as her quest for vengeance. I felt like I was forced to read the other perspectives, and couldn’t wait to get back to Orka’s point of view each time the novel strayed from it.


“And if I do not find him, then I shall have my vengeance. I am blood. I am vengeance, I am death.”


I was also incredibly frustrated by the lack of a glossary of terms when it came to world-building. The Shadow of the Gods throws us right into the world, with very little explanation of the terms of the creatures or even the Norse terms. There are near constant references to vraesen, which I can infer from context is just a term for non-human creatures, but I can never say with any certainty. Likewise, there are other countless Nordic terms, such as brynja, or even other unexplained terms such as Galdurman, that the reader also has to figure out from context, without a glossary or explanations to help them.


As this is a Viking-esque world, it’s only fitting that The Shadow of the Gods contains lots of descriptions of battles and violence. All of these action sequences are written very well, are extremely realistic, and easy to picture. I am not a huge fan of gore, so these weren’t my favorite parts of The Shadow of the Gods, but those that delight in battles, tales of vengeance, and action scenes will surely love this novel. I particularly liked the parts of The Shadows of the Gods which cast doubt on the common dream of finding fame, meaning, and glory through battle only. I think this belief and ultimate goals is generally just accepted in many Viking tales, and I really liked seeing the exploration of the theme that there is more to life than dying in a spectacular battle, or something of that nature. I think it will be interesting to see many of these warrior characters, especially Elvar, learn this lesson the hard way.


“‘Look around you. Petty men and women, dreaming of battle-fame, as if that were the greatest thing in life.’

‘Well, it is,’ Elvar said fiercely. 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. That way we will live for ever. That is what I want, what all of all of us want.’

‘I know,’ Uspa said, ‘which is why I pity you, Elvar Störrsdottir.'”


I also think that fans of the video game Skyrim will really like The Shadow of the Gods. I honestly felt like I was reading an alternate universe of Skyrim with this novel. With frost spiders, grey beard jokes, dragon born, Jarls, and evil dragons, I really can’t help but feel that author John Gwynne has at least played the game, if not more than once. It’s almost like he created original characters for within that world, with a bit of a twist. However, Gwynne attributes the inspiration for the Norse tale of Ragnarok, which I now really want to read. There’s also a giant world ash tree, reminiscent of Yggdrasil. Norse mythology buffs will really enjoy The Shadow of the Gods.


“All the Tainted know Oskutreð to be true,” Kraka said. “The great tree was at the heart of the gods-fall where our ancestors fell…”


Despite my struggle to get invested in The Shadow of the Gods, I am interested in reading future entries of the series. When the novel ended, I honestly felt like it was just finally getting good and I was frustrated that it ended. I am interested to see where future entries in the series will go, especially View Spoiler » Ultimately, though parts of The Shadow of the Gods did not work for me, this is a solid fantasy novel that many readers will enjoy and I myself am looking forward to reading future installments in the series.

Book Review : The Shadow of the Gods - Blogging with Dragons

Posted March 15, 2021 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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4 responses to “Book Review : The Shadow of the Gods

  1. I hate that this one didn’t work out for you! It’s one that I’m anticipating, but now I’m not sure if I will enjoy it. The problems you had are usually deal breakers for me. Hopefully, it won’t disappoint. Great review!

    • Thank you! Yeah, me too. I really wanted to love it. I still am glad I read it, so hopefully you will enjoy regardless!

  2. Daniel Elliott

    I agreed with you so much on the terms. It was so frustrating not being able understand certain phrases. It took me out of the story a lot whenever that happened. And it takes foreverrr to get the plot moving forward.

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