Title: Shadow of the Gods
Author: John Gwynne
Publisher: Orbit Books
Publication Date: May 4, 2021
Shadow of the Gods is an epic Nordic-style fantasy book written by John Gwynne and published in early 2021. John Gwynne not only handles immense world-ending stakes, but also makes use of personal and intimate character motivations to drive the main story. The audience follows a cast of well-developed characters through a world that, while clearly influenced by Norse Mythology, puts its own spin on the myths to create something fresh and unique. The level of detail John Gwynne included in his world is astounding on its own, with many terms taken directly from the Viking world, demonstrating a level of research and knowledge that helps flesh out the story and tone.
While Shadow of the Gods handles events that take place on a grand scale, the actual plot of the story focuses on more intimate and relatable stakes to ensure the audience gets invested in the characters. Without spoiling any of the plot, I can attest that each point-of-view character has clear motivations and goals that they work toward throughout the narrative. This helps to make the story emotionally engaging, while also allowing it to tackle topics truly ambitious. Gwynne makes the characters feel like real people who are living through turbulent times to create a more captivating story.
The world of Shadow of the Gods shows clear influences from Norse Mythology while still maintaining a sense of originality. Gwynne sets the world in a post-Ragnarok world, where the gods have killed each other off, and the story is focused on the consequences of their final battle and absence. Some important changes are also made to the myths he draws inspiration from, with many characters being merged, split, or reinterpreted. Figures like Odin and Jörmungandr, or Loki and Ratatoskr, are combined to create clear parallels to Norse Mythology while maintaining a sense of individualism. Furthermore, each of the gods is associated with an animal, further distancing Gwynne’s world from its Nordic roots and giving it its own distinctive feel while remaining true to its influences.
The level of detail present in John Gwynne’s work adds to the immersive nature of his story and worldbuilding and shows the amount of passion and research that went into this book. While Gwynne emphasizes certain aspects of the Viking world for the purpose of storytelling, he still demonstrates excellent knowledge of his source material, drawing on Nordic practices for many of his terms such as seiðr, Ulfhethnar, and even describing the use of hacksilver, deriving from a value of silver by weight as opposed to coins. This, alongside the way buildings and environments are described, paints a rich and unique world with enough depth for readers to plunge into.
I found Shadow of the Gods to not only have a truly enthralling world, but also to have a narrative and cast of characters with more than enough substance to hold it all together and leave readers invested and entertained through its entirety. I would personally give it a rating of 9/10 and recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy which takes a darker tone and weaves
an intricate narrative.