The Hunger of the Gods by John Gwynne

April 20, 2022

Please note, The Hunger of the Gods is the second book in an ongoing series. I would strongly advise reading book one, The Shadow of the Gods, before proceeding further as what follows will likely contain minor spoilers. Consider yourself duly warned. 

Lik-Rifa, the dragon god of legend, has been freed from her eternal prison. Now she plots a new age of blood and conquest.

As Orka continues the hunt for her missing son, the Bloodsworn sweep south in a desperate race to save one of their own – and Varg takes the first steps on the path of vengeance.

Elvar has sworn to fulfil her blood oath and rescue a prisoner from the clutches of Lik-Rifa and her dragonborn followers, but first she must persuade the Battle-Grim to follow her.

Yet even the might of the Bloodsworn and Battle-Grim cannot stand alone against a dragon god.

Their hope lies within the mad writings of a chained god. A book of forbidden magic with the power to raise the wolf god Ulfrir from the dead . . . and bring about a battle that will shake the foundations of the earth. 

I’ve been looking forward to this. The Shadow of the Gods was one of my standout novels of 2021. In The Hunger of the Gods, events pick up directly after the end of book one. The dragon god, Lik-Rifa, has been released upon the world and there are a hardy few willing to take up the cause and stand against her. 

Orka remains my favourite character. There is such a grim determination in everything she does. No obstacle, however huge, is insurmountable. Orka’s a fantastical Sarah Connor. Absolutely nothing will stop her from finding, and protecting, her son. Where the characterisation excels is in exploring the depth of her loss. Orka’s husband is still warm in the ground, but she has no time to mourn, she has to cope with the trauma of her only child’s kidnapping.  It seems Orka only ever finds anything close to peace when she gives herself over to her bloodlust. In those moments, everything else slips away. In the moment there is no pain, no suffering, only action and reaction. It reads like an addictive oblivion, that can only be found in the heart of a battle. I see it as a mark of just how broken Orka is, that the numbness of conflict is the only thing that can offer any respite.  In a book where there is so much bloodletting and violence, there is always a concern that in the quieter moments things might feel a little flat. Not so in this case. When the fighting stops, and the adrenaline burns away, we get the opportunity to learn how it is only anger and grief that keeps Orka moving forward. Gwynne makes her raw emotion feel palpable. It very nearly leaps off the page. 

The other characters are just as well observed but we’d be here all day if I spent time just trying to dissect them all. Suffice to say, we’re all good on that front.

Another thing that struck me there is a rhythm to the narrative where the various threads of the plot are drawn together and then split apart again. It makes things feel like a proper Scandinavian saga of old. Elements weave in and out of the warp and weft of the story. I particularly enjoy the instances where characters we already know meet for the first time. You get their impressions as they size one another up. We’ve already followed them separately, but it gives new insight into viewing them from someone else’s perspective. Clever stuff, eh? 

Gwynne’s writing hits the mark every time when it comes to the frenetic chaos of the various battles and fights. The Bloodsworn are all driven by the blood of the gods in their veins. When called upon they give that power free reign to run wild. When it comes to the action scenes you just have to hold on and hope you live to see the other side. Everywhere you look there are literal guts, bloody gore and everything in-between.

Over and above the first-class characterisation and the gasp-inducing action scenes, the thing that really stands out for me is the way the author blends the historic elements of Norse culture and their mythology with his evocative fantasy world. Everything dovetails so perfectly. Look, I know I’m fashionably late to the party and Gwynne has been publishing novels for a decade now, but this is the first series of his I have read. The good news is that The Bloodsworn Saga acts as the ideal gateway drug to his writing. This is an author whose work I’m sure I’m going to keep coming back to again and again. Things couldn’t be better from where I’m stood, there is a whole back catalogue for me to go out there and devour. 

As an aside, Gwynne gets extra points for choosing to use a wheel of cheese as an offensive weapon. Well played.

The Shadow of the Gods was a great book, The Hunger of the Gods surpasses it. The characters are given the opportunity to evolve, the pace of the story never lets up and there is that promise of much more left still to discover. I loved every word. 

The Hunger of the Gods is published by Orbit and is now. Highly recommended.

My musical recommendation had to be something suitably vast and anthemic to capture the tone of the novel, so I went with a known quantity. I listened to God of War by Bear McCreary while reading this book. They complement one another perfectly. I’m sure Orka and Kratos would be most appreciative of this choice. They both favour the direct no-nonsense approach to problem-solving. 


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