The Shadow of the Gods (The Bloodsworn trilogy #1) by John Gwynne

Book Description

From acclaimed fantasy author John Gwynne comes the first in the Bloodsworn trilogy, an epic of wild lands and wilder magic, where not all monsters fight with tooth and claw…and the treasures of the gods come at a price.
This is the age of storm and murder.
After the old gods warred and drove themselves to extinction, the cataclysm of their fall shattered the land of Vigrio.
Now, power-hungry jarls carve out petty kingdoms, and monsters stalk the shadow-haunted woods and mountains. A world where the bones of the dead gods still hold great power, promising fame and fortune for those brave – or desperate – enough to seek them out.
As whispers of war echo over the plains and across the fjords, fate follows the footsteps of three people: a huntress searching for her missing son, a jarl’s daughter who has rejected privilege in pursuit of battle fame, and a thrall who has cast off his chains and now fights alongside the famed mercenaries known as the Bloodsworn.
All three will shape the fate of the world, as it once more teeters on the edge of chaos.

My Review

The Shadow of the Gods is an epic story set in a Norse inspired world during a time when myths become real, blood oaths are sworn and vengeance is sought. A cold world filled with many fantastical creatures, witches, Berserker warriors, bloodthirsty battles and strongly protected customs and traditions.

There are three main characters with alternating chapters told from each of their points of view: Orka, Varg and Elvar. They each have a separate story, but as the narrative progresses it becomes clear that their story arcs must eventually converge, perhaps not all in this book but at some point in the trilogy.

It is clear Orka was once a warrior who has now settled down with her Beserker husband, Thorkel and son, Breca, hoping for a quiet life. However, a quiet life does not last for long and she can only hope to have taught her son enough that he can survive such a cruel world after she and Thorkel are no longer there to protect him.

Orka teaching Mord and Lif warcraft, so that they can avenge their father’s death, is done in quite a maternal way. This natural instinct of a mother was partly what led to her freeing them. Her rage and determination to find her son is relatable by all mothers. As a mother of a thirteen year old boy I know that no one comes near your child to harm them, or you turn into a raging Berserker! This instinct gives her the almost superhuman strength and stamina she needs to beat a whole group of warriors, in order to find out where her son Breca has been taken. Hell hath no fury like a woman whose husband has been brutally slain and child has been taken from her.

Elvar is a member of a warband named The Battle Grim. They are mercenaries – their leader Agnar’s priority is to earn enough gold through trading people, as well as goods, to keep his warrior band happy and loyal to him. Despite being a ruthless warrior, Elvar has a caring nature. She saved Uspa’s son from a sea monster with no thought for her own safety. She looks after her fellow warriors when they are injured and shows them respectful kindness. She is, however, a brutal killing machine and a cold hearted warrior when faced with a rival warband. Elvar could almost be a young version of Orka, before marriage and child birth.

Varg was a thrall, but he escaped from slavery and fled after committing murder. Now an accidental member of a warband, the Bloodsworn, he is learning how to become a warrior. His haphazard bravery provides a certain amount of comic relief and knows no bounds. He is a loyal and likeable character determined to avenge his sister’s death.

The level of detail of this Norse inspired world is astonishing and makes for an extremely rich reading experience. There is a scene where Orka is drinking mead from a horn while Lif is sewing up the wound in her back using a curved bone fishhook.

The occasional use of Old Icelandic words throughout the novel, the description of the mechanics of a thrall collar, the knowledge of warcraft and specifically, how to wear a heavy mail shirt by tying a weapons’ belt around it in such a way that its weight is partially taken away from the shoulders; all of this reeks of a ton of research and detailed knowledge of the life of a Viking warrior on the part of the author.

The Shadow of the Gods is a truly amazing book. One of the best I have read in a very long time. It will pull on your heartstrings, boil your blood, leave you with your mouth hanging open and have you chuckling to yourself. I highly recommend it!

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About the Author

I was born in Singapore while my dad was stationed there in the RAF. Up until he retired that meant a lot of traveling around, generally a move every three years or so.
I live with my wife and four wonderful (and demanding) children in East Sussex. Also three dogs, two of which will chew anything that stands still. I have had many strange and wonderful jobs, including packing soap in a soap factory, waitering in a french restaurant in Canada, playing double bass in a rock n roll band, and lecturing at Brighton University.
I stepped out of university work due to my daughter’s disability, so now I split my time caring for her and working from home – I work with my wife rejuvenating vintage furniture, which means fixing, lifting, carrying, painting and generally doing what my wife tells me to do…
And somehow during this time I started writing. I’ve always told my children stories at bed-time, and they pestered long and hard for me to write some of it down. At the same time I felt that my brain was switching off a little – vintage furniture is my wife’s passion, whereas my passions are geekier!
That’s how The Banished Lands and Malice began, though along the way it became more than just a hobby. I’m still in shock that it is actually a real book, rather than just pages on my desk. Malice, to my immense surprise and joy, won the David Gemmell Morningstar Award for Best Debut Fantasy of 2012.

You can find me online at

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3 thoughts on “The Shadow of the Gods (The Bloodsworn trilogy #1) by John Gwynne

  1. Pingback: End of the 2021 update – reading and writing | Sue's Musings

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