Series: Bound Gods #1
Published by Harper Voyager on June 21st 2016
Many months back, I saw the cover of this book and read the description; I then sent out a request for a review copy a minute later. The Parents must have been smiling down on me, for I was granted that request, and In the Shadows of the Gods proved to be among the best books I’ve read this year. Multiple POVs and compelling characters; intertwining plots, and a story with a large scope; great prose, and a vast world with wonderful and creative world building. All the ingredient you need to make a epic fantasy trilogy that fans will devour.
It has been almost 800 years since The Fall – when the Parents exiled the Twins, burying them deep within the Earth. Since then, two religions have formed: those who follow the Parents, and those who follow the Twins. Followers of the Parents, believe the Parents were right in their punishment of the Twins. Because of their faith, twins are actively hunted down and persecuted; anytime twins are born, they are instantly drowned, or if there is no water around, they are burned to death. Followers of the Twins believe the Parents were motivated by their jealously of the Twins to exile them. Their goal is find and release the Twins from captivity, so they may overthrow their parents.
One of these priest of the Fallen is Joros, and he makes it his mission in life to find where the twins are buried, and bring them back to power. As he works his way through the politics of the Ventallo, to get himself into the position to he needs to be, four other souls – Scal, a Northernman; Rora and Aro, two orphans; Keiro, priest of the Twinss – walk their own, separate paths. Though they all have different goals in life, soon, their paths will come together…
Joros is a priest of the Fall, and currently a Seeker. Returning with him to Mount Raturo are three people, whom he will bring before the Ventallo. Mount Raturo is the mountain in which the priest of Twins live. I say “in” because they actively live inside the dark caves, with no sunlight what-so-ever penetrating, and no flames allowed – unless the flames are turned blue. It can take days to walk up this mountain, and if the walk itself does not kill you, the Sentinels that guard the way up will. When he finally reaches the Ventallo, left with him is one women – who is carrying twins. With this achievement, Joros is rewarded with a promotion into the Ventallo, as well. As part of his induction, he is shown something that was thought to only a myth: that the Twins were real. For in a box, lies an actual body part of a Twin.
Personally, I found Joros’ character arc to be wave of emotions, and an exremelley compelling one. When we first met him walking up the mountain, I loved him, and thought he would be a “good” guy. But later in “802 Years after the Fall”, the Raturo and living with the twins growing up, seemed to turn him into a bitter old man, and suddenly I wasn’t a fan of him anymore. But again(!), later, when one certain event happens, and even though had did more to for me to see him a character I didn’t like, I was suddenly feeling pity and even… rooting?… for him.
Rora and Aro have been living together since, what appears to be, they were small children. They are currently living in the Canals, which I can best describe as similar to the sewers of a city. Although not completely underground, the Canals have the same hygiene and cleanliness as sewers, and are prone to flooding. Inside of these Canals, are many different gangs, which if one wants to survive in the Canals, must pledge oneself too. After trying to leave the Canals to thieve and rob the uptown, Rora is attacked and beaten to point of death. Aro saves her by finding a man of the upptertown to help. However, he asks something in return for living with him, and this ends up have life-altering affects for the two, where they find themselves talking to the head of a Canal gang.
Rora is extremely head-strong, and confident, and will do anything to protect Aro and make sure he is fed and safe. Aro, by contrast, and is a whining, immature cry-baby, who at times, I was convinced couldn’t be more than seven. Roar is the type to bury a knife if your stomach while starting you in the eye; Aro would break down crying and apologize, if he bumped in to you and you looked at him. These two characters were also equally great, but what compelled me most for their chapters was the seeing Canals and learning the gang government – which Rora and Aro find themselves neck-deep at one point.
Scal is an orphan northman (a feared barbarian-like people from the north), who is found in the snow near a prison camp as a child. Soldiers first thought to kill him, but is instead brought to the prison’s priest (of the Parents), Kierro. Kerrio tried his best to raise, and talk to Scal, and while he doesn’t not yet talk, he follows Kierro around like a shadow and listen to mostly everything he says. The first time he does hear Scal talk is when fighting with a new boy in camp, Brennon. But it was night a fight of anger, it was because the two boys are having fun. From then on, Scal looks to Kerrus as mentor/father, and Brennon becomes his best friend. Scal and Brennons’ release day is soon, but one day while Scal is out, a pack of Norhterman attack the prisoner camp…
Scal was my favorite character and POV chapters to read. He is the characters on the cover (or, at least, that is the attire of a northman). His story is one of pain, love, loss, rage, vengeance, and loneliness. The journey he takes, the places he sees and goes, his thought and actions, and what he has to live with and through – I could have a read whole book devoted solely to Scal! Throughout his story, he always reflects on his time with Brennon and Kerrus, and often quotes lessons that Kerrus had taught him. I love when stories do quotes like this. Kerrus doesn’t have the most original, but they are unique enough that they don’t feel clique. It is also in Scal’s story that we meet Vatri, the the book’s back cover alludes to.
As the back cover mentions, Scal’s and Vatri’s, and Rora’s and Aro’s paths, all do eventually lead together with Joro and Andyyr. However, there is one other POV character who remains off, doing his own thing: Keiro.
Keiro is also a Seeker, like Joro once was – except he doesn’t have the same luck. After witnessing two twins drowned right before his eyes, moments after they are born, he returns to Mount Raturo to have his eyes removed, for he can no longer stand to see a world like this. As he is half way through the act, he sees something that changes him: the twins that Joro saved. Keiro is banished from Raturo for not completing his sacrificed, but is allowed to keep preaching his faith of the twins. If he is to ever comeback to Raturo though, he will be executed.
Keiro was an interesting character, because as we approached the end of the book, I could see the other story lines, slowly coming together – but Keiro was off wandering the lands, and I was waiting to see where this would take us. Where it took us was to a far off land, and Keiro’s POV chapters end up being, arguably, the most important of all in the book.
Things I love about epic fantasy series, such as A Song of Ice and Fire, are not the number of POV characters, but the locations of these characters. Each and every POV character in In The Shadows of the Gods takes place in a completely different locations. Joro is in the dark Mount Raturo, where the priests of the Twins live, in complete darkness, playing political games with each other to gain power and respect; Scal is the frozen north, growing up and marching along with the Northmen – who murder without a second thought, yet hold very true to their morals and respect – and is living in the cold and snowy hell as a mercenary; Rora and Aro are living the Canals – the slums of the slums – and they have to to survive, learning to manipulate and play the games in the gang underwood; Kerio takes us all across the map.
Since this was an eARC, I actually didn’t read the book info before I read it (I did before requesting the review copy, I had just forgotten). Because of this, I had NO IDEA that Joro “gathers a team of disparate fighters,” and when it did happen, I was a tab bit bummed out. They do not come to together until all most the very end, and them coming together like that, with what the ending this first book is, did feel slightly rushed. And because three out of the four POV characters are all together, in the same location, and on same storyline now, it did take a bit of the excitement of changing POVs away, for me. Particularly at the end when there was a scene where I would have preferred to seen something through another character’s eyes. Up until that point though, this was an effortless and absorbing read!
Each character hooked me from the beginning, and all of their separate plot lines were just as compelling as the next. The pacing of the novel is excellent as well! Very fast paced, the only thing I wished was that at the chapters were longer, or another chapter or two, was added for each POV. As I said earlier, I love reading in different locations, and Dunne did a magnificent job in world building, with each locations have different dialects, mannerism, and ways-of-life, but I feel the novel could have benefited from extending a scene of two in each. This would have allowed readers to spend more time in those regions, with the characters, creating a greater picture of the fine details of the world, and also developing the characters that little bit more that they needed for me to say they were also complex.
The best way I can think to describe In the Shadow of the Gods: a perfect epic fantasy for beginners. I mean that 100% as a complement! There are multiple POVs, but not so many characters to loose track of; intertwining plots, but not super complex where you have to re-read sections; excellent world building, but not so vast that we get bogged down with details; and mythology (of the Parents and the Twins), that is basic, but details of it are revealed slowly and appropriately, adding to the mystery and suspense of the story. It has never been so easy and effortlessly for me to read an epic fantasy story, that had this compelling of a plot and characters.
Here is a fun-fact for you I learned after reading the book: In the Shadow of the Gods, was a semi-finalist for the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, and was then picked by Harper Voyager.