Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne
Genre: Fantasy, epic fantasy
Shadow of the gods is the first book in a brand new series by John Gwynne and it's a great one!
The Plot & The Characters
The book follows three point of view characters, Orka, Varg and Elvar. All three characters open strong:
Orka discovers that a neighboring farm has been raided and children stolen. Varg is introduced as an escaped thrall whose seeking a setherwitch and Elvar is a warrior in a mercenary band.
The characterization is very well done, by the time the first three chapters were done, I was deeply invested in all three characters and there was no chance of putting the book down.
The plot follows them as they move through the world and as the blurb says, they will change the world. Since this is a spoiler free review, I will just say that the payoff for the sign posts are absolutely worth it and very well done.
The gods battled each other in apocalypse three hundred years ago. After the god-wars, humans forbade the worship of the gods and smashed their oath-stones (not yet clear what this is). The children of the gods, those with divine blood in their veins, are called the tainted and they are enslaved with magical thrall collars.
The corpses of the gods dot the landscape and they, as well as monster corpses like trolls, are harvested for parts which can be sold for hard coin by those with the skill to take them. You really get the sense of a post-apocalyptical world, from the descriptions to the effect on the people. It is a hard world with very little mercy and certainly no consideration for the innocent.
The world itself is based in Norse mythology, from the titles of nobilities (Jarl) to what they call their slaves (thralls) to the names of the various monsters and gods.
The worldbuilding is great, you're gradually introduced to various elements at a pace that allows you digest the world one piece at a time. Gwynne uses inworld references really well and with great consistency (monsters are called visyn and so on). The descriptions are lovely lyrical prose and the exploratory dialogue engaging. The showing actions, like magic, are very well done.
My only problem with the world is the magic system. It is very unclear at this point, there appear to be two flavors. Galder magic (I listened to the book on audible, apologies if the spelling is horrible) which seems to be based on study and Sether magic that is the result of being born tainted. I will admit, that jarred me a bit. There is a point where a galderman speaks about Setherwitches just being born with the talent and all I could hear was a DnD wizard bitching about sorcerers.
I have one problem with the books and that is the combat descriptions. This can be the fault of the narrator (who wasn't great to be honest), but the combat descriptions felt very staccato, like comic book scene flash panels rather the lyrical flow of prose. I might physically read the book at some point to see if it was just the narrator.
It's a minor detraction however since combat doesn't dominate book.
An excellent start to the new series, I will definitely be reading the next book and I highly recommend to all fans of epic fantasy.