Book Review: The Shadow Of The Gods (The Bloodsworn Saga #1), by John Gwynne

A Bloody, Brutal Fantasy | Physical ARC from Orbit/Nazia | Pages: 496 | Publisher: Orbit | Publishing: 6th May 2021

The Shadow Of The Gods, by John Gwynne is a bloody, brutal fantasy that ruthlessly captures your attention and never lets it go.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

4.75 Stars

Synopsis: The Gods are dead, they fought themselves into extinction and left only bones behind. The Gods may be gone but their power is not, their Bones hold the promise of it, their children carry it’s secrets in their blood.

The Gods may be dead but war is not. Whispers of war exist throughout Vigrid, from land to sea war is coming. Three warriors fight for battle-fame, family, and vengeance, but their journey falls under the Shadow of the Gods and the promise of blood runs deep and true.

CW/TW: Gore/Violence/Graphic violence/death/murder/slavery/slave trading/kidnapping/others may be present.

The Shadow Of The Gods, by John Gwynne is a brilliant Norse inspired story. My experience was quite literally a cycle of ‘oh I like this character they’re so sweet and…oh no’, ‘this character is the best and if anything happens to them I will… NO’, *Squint* ‘I like this character...*squints harder* this isn’t going to end well is it..?’ SO GET READY for this epic but brutal book, I swear you’re going to love it.

The Writing/Narrative. So this is my first ever John Gwynne novel and I have been MISSING OUT because Gwynne is a fantastic writer and story teller. Gwynne’s writing is compelling and immersive right from the start. With easy to read prose that is rich in detail, the settings and characters come to life on the page. The prose perfectly captures the gritty brutal atmosphere of life in Vigrid, with Gwynne’s harsh and vivid descriptions being horrifying and engaging – drawing you into this violent power hungry world. The prose is truly atmospheric and absorbing, you can feel the bite of the sea and seax alike – the settings are well crafted and strong, each easy to picture and lose yourself in as though it is playing out in front of you on the screen.The settings are not the only part of the prose that is strong and compelling, the dialogue and interactions between characters are brilliantly written. From sarcasm and humour, to anger and rage, to sentimentality – the dialogue, characters and character relationships are gripping, heart-wrenching and entertaining to read about – Gwynne’s writing is strong in all aspects ad is well paced throughout.

There are three main narrative perspectives in the book; Orka, Varg, and Elvar’s. All three narratives are spectacular! Each has their own strong and distinct voice, each comes from a completely different perspective in the story, and each has its own compelling thread that keeps you engaged. The multiple pov structure helps keep the book well paced, aids the rich and gritty prose, and helps to fully form the characters and bring them to life. I loved the multiple pov structure and how different they all were.

Overall, the multiple pov’s was strong and effective, it allowed the story to move at a good pace throughout. Moreover, the prose was rich, gritty and captivating, creating strong scenes and setting that were vivid and atmospheric, while still being incredibly easy to read. Gwynne’s mastery of prose is evident as he weaves a complex and engaging story that keeps you tearing through the pages.

Plot/Story. The Shadow Of The Gods is a Norse-inspired world with a bloody, brutal storyline that will have you reading into the night. With dead Gods and their children wandering the Battle-plain with God blood in their veins, the story is full of rich worldbuilding and gritty details. There is a lot to the plot, from Jarl’s and their power hungry battles, to the thralls, to the oppression of those born with blood of the Gods, to the powers that it brings. Not to mentions the plethora of settings from land to sea, and all the different mercenary groups. Honestly there is so much to this book and every single part of it is amazing.

Ok so this book has a phenomenal storyline that is approached from three angles.

First we have Orka’ storyline! Orka and her husband live in a homestead with their son, Breca – a quiet life away from violent and bloody past Orka and Thorkel seem to share. Firstly, I love this family, Orka is strong, brutal and an all around brilliant character who I adore with my whole heart, her husband Thorkel is also incredibly strong and fierce but also such a softy and I loved it, and Breca and absolute sweetheart who should be protected at all costs. Together they hunt and trap animals and live quietly until they come across a family they were close to who have been murdered and their child kidnapped. This kicks off Orka’s storyline of murder, kidnapping and power hungry Jarl’s sucking up to the self-imposed Queen. I absolute loved Orka’s path throughout the story, it was brutal and epic from start to finish and really elaborated on the richness of this gritty battle-hungry world. Her pov was perfectly supported by the side characters that were present despite her very isolated personality, and her action scenes were some of the best and most entertaining – this character is so brilliant and knows what it takes to make it in the Battle-Plain, in the Shattered Realm.

Secondly, we have Varg. I loved Vargs path through the book for very different reasons to Orka’s, mainly because this character is straight up chaotic and makes crazy brutal decisions right off the bat.Varg is a thrall who *cough* escaped *cough* from his owner and gained his freedom. Varg is driven by justice and revenge, entwined through a search for truth. In his search for this truth, Varg stumbles across the Bloodsworn – a group of mercenaries who are elite in their field – and joins them, though he has yet to take the oath an become a full member. This kicks off Varg’s path which is personal and yet still deeply related to the wider plot of missing children and deadly plots. As Varg fights for his Battle-fame to climb the Bloodsworn ranks, he must fight, brawl and battle his way through Vigrid and face bigger threats than he was prepared for. Varg’s storyline is deeply engaging, and absolutely amusing with all the supporting characters he grows to know. Unlike Orka, Varg is surrounded by the Bloodsworn and this makes for some astounding battles with a group focus – and we all love Norse-inspired group battles because they are amazing. This path was also heart-wrenching at times but had a lot of comedy cleverly entwined – Gwynne expertly incorporates humour without losing the deadly, bloody, gritty brutality of this world and never loses sight of how bloody the consequences can be.

The third path is Elvar’s. Another fantastic storyline of course! Now Elvar is part of the Battlegrim, working towards gaining her own Battle-fame in order to make a name for herself rather than live off of the privileged one she was born with. The battlegrim are mercenaries who also trade thralls to build their wealth. This storyline is interesting, it follows Elvar’s personal goals of becoming someone through work and recognition, but ties into the wider story through their trading of thralls. During an endeavour to make a lot of coin, the battlegrim find themselves embroiled in the kidnapping plot that is going on and begin having to face threats much bigger than they are used to. The battlegrim story line gave us a lot of intense moments of loyalty, betrayal and general emotion, but also balanced this with some epic group battles and brutal action. The battlegrim storyline took me the longest to warm up to, it was an epic plot straight away and was immediately, but the trading in thralls makes you more conflicted – and it worked wonderfully because none of the storylines are filled with ‘good’ characters. This world and each of the plots, and the overarching plot, work only if you have these vicious, brutal characters – and yet, by the end (and even from the start for some) you’ll love most (because some of them I cannot forgive – how dare you destroy me like this) of them because they are so fantastically written.

All of these amazing elements and there is still more! From sharp, skull-crushing weapons to tricky family dynamics and to magic and monsters of all different types – this story has it all and you will love every single second of it. The best thing is the consequences are real – Gwynne will make you love these characters and then crush your heart into dust.

Overall, the story is well-paced, wide in scope, rich in detail, epic in it’s multitude of setting and supported by it’s fantastic cast of characters. The action and battle scenes are visceral and brutal, the motivations strong and compelling and the tension and suspense gripping and captivating.

Characters. Have I told you how amazing they all are yet? Yes? Well i’m gonna do it again! Every single character, from the main pov ones to the supporting cast are so well written. Every character is dynamic and multidimensional, messy, flawed and distinct and so very well crafted. Gwynne’s characterisation is as strong as every other aspect of his writing. Because there are just so darn many brilliant characters I couldn’t possibly talk about them all so I’m going to focus on the main three (and Breca because I CAN).

Orka. Oh this woman is everything! She could bash your skull in in the blink of an eye and I love her for it. Orka is an absolute powerhouse of a character, with a stubborn streak and surprising impulsivity. Orka knows the brutal world of Vigrid, with a bloody past hinted at throughout, she fears for Breca and tries to teach him how to protect himself. Her and Thorkel attempt to live quietly with Breca to escape this elusive past until murders and kidnappings occur. Orka is one of my favourite fantasy characters after reading this book because she does not hold back, when she is on a war path you know you’re in for something epic. She is quick, strong, and smart, though stubborn and impulsive at times. An isolated character, but that doesn’t stop her relationships from being brilliantly crafted. As a mother she is fierce and protective and I loved it. Honestly Orka is such a fantastic character in so many ways, flaws and all, and excellent with her weapons. Something I didn’t expect, that came through with Orka and another character, was the theme of motherhood – Gwynne wrote about this theme with so much emotion and intensity that it was truly a striking part of the book and made you really love Orka as a character. I swear if anything happens to Orka…

Breca. Orka’s son and absolute sweetheart who is far too pure for this harsh, bloody world of seax, axes and monsters (who are absolutely disturbing by the way and yet Breca is not in the least perturbed by some of them). I love Breca’s character who is innocent and sweet, but also incredibly thoughtful and considerate. He is an observer and a thinker, the kind of character who could make Vigrid a better place. I love how some of his actions rub off on Orka, and how he has that clear childlike perception of helping people that resonates with adults because it is how it should be. Despite being a child, Breca makes a strong impression and is a compelling character.

Varg.I love this chaotic, messy character. Varg is loyal and determined, he has clear goals and will do what he must to reach them. He does consider his options at times and yet still ends up in the stupidest of situations because of his strong loyalty and desperation – and yet he is incredibly impressive in these situations too and is by no means useless. Varg is a brawler, quick and sharp, but absolutely useless with weapons – making his Bloodsworn training amusing and chaotic. He can be vicious but he has a big heart for those he loves and trusts. His character is another that I feared for constantly because I thought his character was brilliant. His progress throughout the book is one of the most compelling too.

Elvar. Elvar was a more complex character that I didn’t know where I stood with at first. She is strong-willed and determined, she can definitely hold her own in a fight, and has definitely proven herself to be more than a nobody or more than who her past tried to make of her. She is, stubborn though, and doesn’t always care for what others say – her need for battlefame can give her quite a narrow view. She is interesting in her complexity though, and has some interesting dynamics with those around her. Loyal and strong, Elvar constantly brings something intriguing to the table.

There are so many more amazing characters, from ‘good’ to evil that are all compelling and fascinating to read about!

Overall.The Shadow Of The Gods, by John Gwynne is a phenomenal Norse-inspired fantasy that is bloody, brutal and gritty. His prose is strong and compelling, his settings are vivid and rich and his characters dynamic and multi-dimensional. From monsters and magic, to epic battles and dead Gods – this story has everything and more. I could go on and on about this book but I’m sure my babbling has gotten exhausting – but I really loved this book and definitely will be continuing the series and picking up more of Gwynne’s work!

I HIGHLY recommend this to anyone who loves Norse inspired anything, vikings, fantasy, Skyrim or anyone who wants to give a fantasy with high stakes a shot.

*I received a physical ARC of #ThShadowOfTheGods by #JohnGwynne in exchange for an honest review. A big thank you to Orbit/Nazia for the ARC!*


  1. […] The Shadow Of The Gods (The Bloodsworn Saga #1), by John Gwynne – ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨ (4.75 Stars)– Physical ARC (Orbit) – A bloody, brutal adventure with an epic scope and complex and captivating characters. This Norse inspired fantasy is an action packed story with magic, monster and dragons filling every page. With a complex and compelling overarching plot, this book weaves three lives together in a brutal and war-filled way. The three characters are all fighting their own personal demons, but the worst is yet to come – as the shadow of the Gods loom above them. A brilliant read that keeps you on your toes. […]


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