First things first, I’ve had a love of Norse mythology since I was a youngling so this novel has been of interest to me since I first heard about it. And it was worth the wait.
A Gathering of Ravens focuses on Grimnir, one of the last non-human beings still abroad in the world, and his quest to find the one who betrayed and murdered a number of his kin. Grimnir is a skilled warrior of great strength and animalistic cunning. A memorable part early in the novel involves him fending off more than a dozen warriors in a vicious manner. At first, it seems he cares little for anyone or anything beyond his goal but this does gradually change a little. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that traveling with Étaín humanizes him, his relationship with her does serve to give him the smallest sympathetic edge.
By comparison, Étaín is a woman who has been sorely mistreated and has found a degree of solace in her faith. Despite her apparent weakness, there is a core of strength to her that seems to grow in response to Grimnir’s frequent disparagement. More than once, she stands up to those more powerful than herself, risking herself in the name of her beliefs.
One thing that I particularly liked about the novel is that it shows a world that is currently in flux. Taking place predominantly in the early part of the 11th century, Christianity has been gaining more and more followers, while older ways are in decline. This is shown in a number of ways. Some of the other non-human beings encountered early in the novel seem to be gradually slipping into madness as the power of the Norse gods wanes, while the spirits of nature fade in the lands that have converted to Christianity. And yet, the magic of the old ways can be as strong as ever and some of those who profess to follow the newer religion has no issue ignoring some of its tenets. Both are things that Étaín initially struggles with.
As mentioned earlier, there is a good deal of violence in the novel but it is well-written and I can’t think of a scene I considered gratuitous. Similarly, the world, whether Scandinavia, Wessex or Ireland; is very detailed, mingling history and folktales and myth to glorious effect. Highly recommended for readers looking for dark fantasy, even more so for those who also enjoy the Norse myths.
4 & 1/2 out of 5 ivory hilted seaxes.