Wow. What a fantastic first book in a new, exciting epic fantasy series. It’s got everything you want in an epic fantasy; Norse mythology, gods, monsters, dragons, swords, battles, mercenaries, stupid and/or evil rulers, skilled fighters, cowards, plucky former slaves out for vengeance, quests, and much more. The book ends on a great cliffhanger and I can’t wait to see what the author will bring us next.
The story centers on three main characters, Orka, Varg and Elvar. Orka is a former warrior. She is married with a young son. She and her family lived on the outskirts of a small village. One day as she and her family are out on their land, they hear screaming from a nearby home. They find the two parents slaughtered and their young son missing. They track the attackers to a nearby river, where the kidnappers have made their escape. Soon thereafter, Orka’s family is also attacked, her husband killed and her son kidnapped. Orka sets out on a quest to find her kidnapped son.
Varg is a former slave, called a “thrall” in this book. He escapes his master and tracks down a group of mercenaries called Bloodsworn. They have a magician travelling with them and Varg wants her to conduct a spell that will show him the identity of his sister’s murderer. He plans to hunt that person down and kill them. But things aren’t quite that easy, and before he knows it, he’s made a trial member of the Bloodsworn and they have set out on a mission to fight monsters troubling a nearby border. Varg must prove himself and become a member of the Bloodsworn before he will be allowed to ask the magician for her help.
Lastly, Elvar, is the daughter of a powerful and cruel Jarl. Rather than be forced to marry someone to help strengthen her father’s position, she runs away and joins a group of mercenaries called the Battle-Grim, who hunt down people who possess extra powers and are considered “god-touched”. The Battle-Grim sell the “god-touched” people to rich and powerful people who make them into thralls. Elvar has hidden who her family is to everyone except her leader, and has worked and fought hard to earn battle-fame of her own. She is a loyal, skilled and capable fighter. Through a series of circumstances the Battle-Grim find themselves on a quest to find the place where the last battle of the gods took place, which has god bones (which give the holder power) and other riches that will not only make them all rich beyond belief, but will also give them much battle-fame, which means their names will last forever. But of course, things don’t go according to plan.
The book is told in short chapters, bouncing back and forth between the three main characters’ quests. You can see that slowly, and eventually, our three heroes will come together. Their paths there, however, will be much different.
Gwynne does a great job of intertwining the worldbuilding throughout the book, so you don’t have to slog through a huge info dump to set the stage. Getting through the worldbuilding is one of the things that makes reading the first book of a fantasy series hard sometimes, and often turns off the casual fantasy reader. Don’t get me wrong, worldbuilding is vital to a good fantasy series. It’s just that some authors are better than others in winding it throughout the book, without leaving the reader confused or frustrated.
I really like the three main characters. The author does a great job of character building and I felt their highs and lows as they experienced them. There are several other minor characters that help move the stories along and add a bit of humor. These characters are less developed than the main characters, but are flushed out enough to add depth to the stories.
I really enjoyed Gwynne’s previous series, so was excited to learn he had started another one. This is set in a different world, but the attention to detail, the great worldbuilding, the interesting characters and in-depth battle scenes are just what we expect from this author. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley and Orbit Books. All opinions are my own.