We decide what is the way of the world. Us. People.– Uspa
Whoever told the people of John Gwynne’s series The Bloodsworn Saga that the gods would stay fallen after the Guðfalla may have spoken too soon. The Hunger of the Gods, the follow-up to The Shadow of the Gods, picks up right where it left off with the dragon-god Lik-Rifa now set loose on the world, Varg finding out he has tainted blood along with all of the Bloodsworn, and Orka revealed to be a former member and her murdered husband brother to Glornir, their leader. Orka, Varg, and Elvar return as points of view now with two added, Guðvarr, the stooge nephew of one of the jarls who went after Orka, and daughter Biórr, the dragon-born who betrayed the Battlegrim and killed their leader before helping free the dragon-god.
I compared the point-of-view character’s arcs in my review for The Shadow of the Gods, to a Venn diagram with a small amount of crossing plot thread in the center and it would be interesting how those plot threads would overlap in book two, but I failed to foresee how much larger the union of all sets in the center of the diagram would grow with the character’s goals, politics, and motivations interweaving. With the world firmly established, there is less need for set-up and more time to focus on the ongoing plot. Gwynne continues what he set in the first novel with Scandanavian culture throughout his established world with well-researched accuracy. Still, now it’s the character interactions and the overarching narrative that takes center stage. The resurrection of Lik-Rifa has an enormous ripple effect over The Hunger of the Gods that puts cracks in the status quo of Vigrið, The Battle Plane told at the very beginning of the series and foreshadowed it entirely breaking by its epilogue.
Guðvarr is the entitled nephew of a Jarl Störr, a sniveling weasel who throws his limited power around to get what he wants and makes Orka’s life hell in the first book. At first, you’d think reading his point-of-view would be dreadful, and yet reading a chapter from someone so selfish, so cowardly, and who is constantly looking for an opportunity to rise in ranks can be very entertaining. It’s not usually the Grima Wormtongue, the Starscream, the Iago, as in the yes-man minion type who gets the focus but through him, we see the politics of Vigrið’s ruthless Queen Helka and how she plans to conquer lands beyond her region. Gwynne uses Guðvarr’s internal dialogue, generally disparagingly to whoever he is talking to, and what he says, nodding along saying what they want to hear while groveling cowardly-like, is so well done. Yet, because he’s the peon at the bottom of the hierarchy, he is constantly talked down to, manipulated, and used for other people’s success so much that he becomes a sympathetic character.
Somehow Biórr, whose history and situation should make him entirely sympathetic, comes off as a complete hanger-on to Lik-Rifa. No matter the action, he has convinced himself that it is all in the right to make a better world for the tainted. He isn’t technically wrong, as the tainted are treated as second-class citizens and, at worst, enslaved people unable to control themselves due to a magic collar that won’t let them disobey orders. Yet forcing children to join against their will, separating them from their families, and forcing indoctrination to Lik-Rifa’s cult-like following makes him far more of a villain in this book or at least a massive hypocrite. Several times, he questions his actions and choices of everything is going on, running with people no better than the ones he hates, and yet so badly wants to be accepted and part of a better world for the tainted he’d kill people he considered his friends not to be ostracized.
Towards the beginning of the book, it seemed like Elvar was going down a similar path to Biórr, a course of accepting the terrible actions one must do in the Battle Plane’s society because, as is repeatedly said in this book, “that’s the way of the world.” It’s easier for Elvar to accept the way things are because, to her, it’s the easiest path to her ambitions. However, perhaps because she is the youngest of the point-of-view characters, in her mission to fulfill her sworn oath, she begins to learn more about the perspective of how tainted are treated. By the end, she’s starting to learn the way things are probably aren’t the way things have to be to fulfill her goals, but it likely won’t be fully realized until the next book.
While Varg’s subplot of finding his sister has only a few developments, his role is vital to the Bloodsworn rescuing Vol, the wife of Glornir, who was kidnapped in the first book’s climax. His weapons craft with the mercenaries adds learning to control his powers from his god’s blood and how it works. By doing this, when the Bloodsworn arrives in the southern land of Iskidan on a mission to rescue one of their own, it leads to a battle where Varg and the rest of his comrades can unleash their abilities that calls them Tainted in their homeland to the full extent. The battle feels like a culmination of the journey Varg and the Bloodsworn took to get to this point after several setbacks and gatekeepers in their way. The outcome feels like a foregone conclusion but in a cathartic and satisfying way, like when the babyface finally gets their hands on the heel in a wrestling match who has been alluding them the entire feud.
Orka’s desperation to get her son back is the heart and soul of the series. That willingness to take any action to be reunited with her boy oozes out of the book. You want this for her just much as she does. Gwynne’s writing allows you to feel the weight of Orka’s choices on her shoulders, only for them to slip so easily off of her and through her, all in the name of saving her son. By the time the ending hits, it is not only heartbreaking but makes the third book one of my most anticipated. If you remember from the first book, those who join the Bloodsworn swear an oath. Therefore, Orka’s backstory with them that is explored alongside her quest is quite interesting. Who is she to the Bloodsworn, and why did Thorkel and her leave? The more Orka returns to who she was to save her son, the more it becomes clear why she left that life in the first place.
The Hunger of the Gods is an apt title, as the book left me hungry even more for what’s to come in its follow-up. The second book of the Bloodsworn series puts the pieces in place for a grand and epic third book while showcasing Gwynne’s characters involved in the world and each other’s arcs. The world feels more lived in with plot threads interwoven between all the point-of-views, and while on separate journeys, what happens in one character feels like it’ll have a lasting impact on them all. The Hunger of the Gods by John Gwynne continues to contain everything I love about epic fantasy.
Joshua was provided an advance copy of the book by Orbit books.
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