Fantasy Book Review: The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne

Fantasy Book Review

The Shadow of the Gods
Author: John Gwynne
Publication Date: May 4, 2021
Publisher: Orbit
Genres: Epic Fantasy

Never having read John Gwynne before, I signed on for an ARC of The Shadow of the Gods for four reasons. One, I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Two, I'd heard great things about the book. Three, two-thirds of the POV character were women. Four, that cover is absolutely amazing! I know, I know, never judge a book by its cover, but with the promise of a dragon that big and that bad-ass, coupled with kickass women, and I had high hopes.

Unfortunately, while I wouldn't say I found the reading experience entirely disappointing, it was certainly underwhelming. It was a serviceable read in many respects, but hardly a memorable one. It was one of those books I could put down without regret, and found it increasingly harder to find the drive to pick back up.

So, let me start with Gwynne's style. Maybe it's just me, but I don't see what the fuss is all about. I found the narrative full of awkward phrasings and unusual word choices which, combined with all the mythological names and terms dropped in without introduction or explanation, caused me to stumble over sentences, forced to reread passages so often that I felt bogged down. That brings me to the POV characters. I'm okay with difficult reads (Kameron Hurley), heavy language (Guy Gavriel Kay), and immersive worldbuilding (Steven Erikson), so long as there are characters I care about. Here, I found all three characters - Orka, Varg, and Elvar - to be dull and flat, with nothing to distinguish one narrative voice from another. Varg intrigued me at first, but lost me by the end, while Okra seemed perpetually on the cusp of becoming interesting.

Where The Shadow of the Gods did excite me was with the action scenes. The monsters are big and bad, the action is heavy, and there are legitimate consequences to this world's conflicts. I don't remember the last time a book made me pause so often, just to say "Damn, that was cool," and that's the aspect that kept me reading through all the challenges. As for the dragon, all I can say is be patient- very patient. Oddly, though, despite all that action, the overall narrative suffered significant pacing issues. It was as if cool things happened, but not in pursuit of the story. An interesting book that didn't quite work for me, but which will likely have far greater appeal to those more familiar with Norse mythology or more familiar with Gwynne himself.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀


  1. Sorry this didn't live up to the hype for you. Now I'm a little worried! I'm hoping to start this next week, I guess we'll see😁


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