I am torn in many directions, all of which are good, when talking about The Bloodsworn series by John Gwynne. This is an amazing series that sucks you in like a whirlpool, and I have enjoyed both of the installments I have read immensely. However, my only real struggle with the second book, The Hunger of the Gods, is that it took me a little time to get back up to speed as the pacing is fast and all-consuming. I have a strong feeling that this series will be one of my top recommendations for continuous binges in the future, so prospective readers might want to wait until the series is finished. Then again, I couldn’t put the book down once I started it, so who am I to tell you how to live your life?
The Shadow Of The Gods, book one in the series, missed our Best Books of 2021 list by a single slot. I have recently realized that it is probably one of the best introductions to adult fantasy for new readers that I have in my arsenal. It was easy to pick up, set in a well-realized Norse world that’s fun to explore, populated by memorable warriors with clear objectives, and stuffed with more mystery than Odin’s ravens. But in some ways, Shadow is just a prelude to the real meat of the story, which takes off running in The Hunger Of The Gods.
Shadow was all about defining the stakes of the conflict in The Bloodsworn. The book subsided on mystery and hidden agendas. While I can’t really talk about the plot of Hunger without spoiling Shadow, I will say that the meat of its identity is built around preparation. This book is the armament before Ragnarok. It is the sides drawing lines and forming alliances. It is the opening move in a colossal game of chess that is terrifying to behold. And it is a lot of fun.
Our cast of POVs expands in book two from the three protagonists to five. The two additional characters provide fantastic foils to the original trio and were both solid additions. I think Gwynne has one of my favorite depictions of cowardly/weasely characters who are always using their oily cunning to avoid the fallout of their selfish actions. Of the original three protagonists—Orka (an older mother searching for a lost child), Varg (a younger man searching for his sister’s killer), and Elwar (a vain and smug princess trying to prove she has an absolutely gargantuan schween)—I continued to be enamored with Orka and just done with one of the other two. You get one guess as to which one. I really was hoping that Elwar would hit rock bottom in Shadow and start an upward moral trajectory in book two. Her first action in Hunger is to be super pro-slavery. Not a great look. There is of course more context behind her actions; you will have to decide for yourself if you think they are justified (I obviously don’t).
As for the world, Gwynne has done a marvelous job of bringing life and cohesion to a Norse setting. He has found a great balance of myth and reality to make everything feel like a giant bloody clock that grinds up warriors for grease for the cogs. The one area that is starting to get a little overdone is how every faction runs on “the biggest sword rules,” despite numerous characters in several different plotlines all pointing out the “importance of a leader with deep cunning.” I can only watch a clever clog with brains trick a meathead with an arm like a cannon so many times in one book.
One thing I will never get tired of though is the trope of not recognizing someone famous. The Bloodsworn rightly adds a lot of emphasis on the importance of legends, and several characters have reputations that precede them across the land. I will never get tired of watching some idiot saying “who do you think you are, The Buttspanker?” to the Buttspanker. Gets me every time.
The Hunger Of The Gods is a phenomenal bridge book, and it does the specific job it was assigned very well. Hunger is a hypeman for the next act of this bloody story, and I am most definitely very hyped. As with all Gwynne novels, I started a little overwhelmed and ended planning a trip to the UK to heist the next book manuscript from Gwynne’s home.
Rating: The Hunger Of The Gods – 9.0/10
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.