The land of Vigrid is dominated by the death of the gods. The animalistic deities warred against one another hundreds of years ago. Their fratricidal battle, the Gudfalla, shattered the land and wiped out the gods themselves.
The history of the gods and their ragnarok-esque battle was extremely well done. The event dominates the culture of Vigrid, casting long shadows even hundreds of years later. In general, the setting is a pretty typical Norse inspired world, but Gwynne masterfully weaves the macrolevel worldbuilding elements into the story itself, intertwining the epic history with the personal struggles of his characters. This world is awesome, the magic has just the right mix of wonder, action, and ritual. I give the worldbuilding in this novel high marks, it is perfectly suited to the story.
The plot revolves around three warriors, each with their own axe to grind. Orka is the story’s protagonist, although to be honest I would say she was the least engaging in my opinion. Which is not to say her chapters weren’t also compelling. Overall, her character was a bit of the strong female protagonist. She was tough as nails and a badass fighter, but we don’t get much more than that. She is trying to save her family, so her motivation is her motherly instincts, but I never got enough of those relationships to make her motivations resonate as well as the other characters.
Elvar and Varg were more interesting to me. The author held back many things in this novel for later reveals and one of them is Orka’s backstory. While the payoffs are great, I think this hampered her development at the onset and made me more interested in the other storylines. Varg’s tale struck a better balance, giving us just enough detail from his past to create a mystery that kept me reading. Overall I think his chapters were my favorite. There was a progression element, of the runaway slave acquiring weapons, gear, training, battle prowess etc that I think will appeal to a lot of fantasy readers. Elvar has her own interesting backstory that is revealed at just the right time. Her unique family dynamics create interesting character relationships with Grend and Biorr. Both Varg and Elvar travel with large mercenary groups. So I will mention briefly that there were a few minor moments of confusion, at least for me, when the storylines blended or overlapped in my brain.
There were also a couple of lesser quibbles I had with this book. First of all, the use of the term “thought-cage” instead of mind, I found to be quite jarring. It occurs probably a hundred times in the book. I just couldn’t wrap my thought-cage around it. Eventually the usage faded into the background but at first it really took me out of the vivid dream. There was also an issue of the characters wearing plot armor at a couple of points. The land of Vigrid is nothing if not brutal, and there are several moments where I felt like characters should really have died, but the author just knocked them out instead. One moment in particular made me think of this and then I considered how many times it had happened throughout the story.
These were relatively minor issues compared to my enjoyment. This novel was wonderfully paced. Shadow of the Gods isn’t a doorstopper, but it is 400-500 pages. I just tore through this book. Gwynne does a really artful job of keeping the reader curious. The scenes are all very vivid and never get bogged down with excessive detail or dull passages of any sort. This book has no soggy middle. It is all go, go, go. There are always new sights, new enemies, and new mysteries. I was left HUNGRY for more…all caps.