“Why did you kill him, when he answered everything?” Mord pressed. “Because a cleaved head no longer plots,” Orka growled”
The Shadow of the Gods by John Gywnne is a Norse inspired fantasy novel that focuses on three distinct characters. First we have Varg a thrall who having killed his master is now on the run. He only has one goal in mind and that is to discover who killed his sister and get revenge on the murderer. When he comes across a competition to become a member of the Bloodsworn (group of mercs), he doesn’t hesitate as a Witch within the group may help him discover and find the killer of his sister.
Then we have Elvar a mercenary who has left her life of being a noble woman and joined the crew of Agnar, the leader of a mercenary group. She doesn’t want to live a boring life as the wife of a nobleman and basically wants more from life. The group are tasked with capturing a the family of a tainted person (someone who is half human and half god). They manage to capture the tainted man and his family but as usual, shit hits the roof when things start to go wrong and the child of the family is kidnapped. Enticed by what the mother of the child offers Agnar for the retrieval of the child, Elvar along with the crew must travel to a place in the world where the blood of the gods still dwells in the soil. They will face many monsters and creatures in their pursuit of battle fame and riches.
Finally we have Orka, the icing on the cake and my favourite character. Orka is a huntress who along with her husband Thorkel and son Breka are just getting by in their village. However, not all good things last Orka’s son is kidnapped. Orka’s son isn’t the first as many children are being taken away by mysterious folk. Thus, Orka fueled with rage like a dragon with indigestion must go on a journey to bring back her son. The path she follows only leaves a trail of blood, vengeance, and axes to the head.
Man oh man what an absolutely epic story this was. I have wanted to read something by John Gywnne for years and finally i did! I’m kicking myself for taking this long but after reading The Shadow of the Gods, it was definitely worth the wait. The world-building for me was absolutely exquisite. It was filled to the brim with history, monsters such as Night Wyrm’s, Frost Spiders, Holngange, and many more. There are also battles that will have you ready to throw hands. The battle scenes had me on the edge of my seat and reminded me of the fights in the recent God of War game. Axes were flying, swords were swooshing, and skulls were cracking throughout.
The land of Vigario also had so much depth and history to it. Just some back story but basically a century ago god’s ruled the world. But due to certain events, chaos ensued and god’s fought god’s leading to their demise. Only their bones remain which if harnessed have the ability to give people the upper hand through their magical prowess. With the gods now gone the land is now split into wee pockets and ran by Jarls. Jarls are basically governors who protect their people who must in turn pay taxes.
it sounds . .. dangerous.”
This is Vigrið,” she answered. “Living is dangerous.” And she zurched on.”
The history of Vigario is also so rich due to the particular inclusion of people who are “tainted”. Even though the gods are gone, they exist in some way through the “tainted”. As I said before, they are basically half human and half god’s. Depending on the god that is in their blood, each differs in their ability and powers. The tainted aren’t loved due to this and are often kidnapped and sold to be the muscle in the army of the Jarl’s. Now you’re probably thinking “they have powers why don’t they just kill the Jarl’s and be done with this BS”. Well there exists collars that are placed around the neck of the tainted which shuts down their powers and abilities.
When considering the characters, I really liked all three of them and their own distinct voices. I loved how Elvar for example was shifting away from the norms of being a noble woman, she chose to discover her own path and place in the world. Her relationship with her crew especially Grend was fantastic. I loved how much of a father figure Grend was to Elvar. Even though they are not of the same blood, the way they cared and looked out for each other made was incredibly heartwarming. Varg’s journey consisted mainly of assimilating himself with the Bloodsworn crew. They trained him and taught him the do’s and don’ts in battle. Varg never gives up and managed to get a few major kills throughout the story. I loved the members of the Bloodsworn and the humorous dialogue between them all. I especially loved Svik’s story about how he was saved by cheese which had me cracking up. It was also funny how Varg’s nickname quickly became “Varg No-Sense” because of his inability to think before he acts 😂.
“To be Bloodsworn is an honour, and one that is not undertaken lightly We do not allow just any warrior with fast fists to become one of us”
Finally, Orka was definitely my favourite without a shadow of a doubt. She gave me vibes of Kratos from the recent God of War game. She is a force to be reckoned with and you quickly realise she doesn’t give a shit who gets in her way. Orka leaves no table unturned battling swarms of enemies in her quest to find her missing son. After the ending I can’t fricking wait to see what happens next with her, Elvar, and Varg.
“The ones who stole my boy: who murdered my husband, I will be their death.”
Overall, this book was everything and I mean it! I thought it was the perfect fantasy novel and had no flaws whatsoever. I now understand why John Gywnne is such a beloved fantasy author. I can’t wait to continue this series and hopefully read more of John’s books😊.
Thank you to Angela and Orbit for gifting me an ARC copy. The book releases on