Series: Bound Gods #1
Publisher: Harper Voyager (June 21, 2016)
Length: 400 pages
My Rating: 3.5 stars
In the Shadow of the Gods announces a new voice in the fantasy field. Rachel Dunne setting off on an epic journey with this opening salvo in her Bound Gods series; the story promising divine beings, conflict and betrayal, personal angst, and more than enough combat and magic to satisfy.
The world setting for Shadow is an interesting one, dominated by a perpetual state of religious strife. Two faiths vying for control over the masses. The dominant force is that of the Parents; the creator gods who brought the universe and all its inhabitants into being. The rogue faith is for the Twins, or the Fallen; these divine children of the Parents having rebelled against their progenitors; their punishment to be cast down upon the world, where their bodies shattered into pieces – but they did not die.
The eternal bone of contention between these two faiths are the Twins, specifically their rebirth. For, you see, the faithful of the Fallen are eternally working to either recovery and reassemble the bodies of their gods or use newborn twin babies for their gods’ spirits to inhabit. Something the followers of the Parents oppose, going so far as to kill all twin babies at birth and stone to death any missionaries of the Twins.
Into this quagmire of strife, Ms. Dunne weaves her tale through the viewpoints of five distinct characters. Each of these individuals living in the same general area of the world but as different from one another as people continents apart.
Readers first encounter Seeker Joros. This missionary of the Twins returning to his faith’s secret sanctuary in Mount Raturo, which lies at the very edge of civilization. His purpose is to return several new converts to his outlawed religion; one pregnant female, in particular, is vitally important as she might be carry unborn twins. Joros’ hope that the delivery of this pregnant woman will prove his worth beyond question and open the way to him becoming a member of the ruling elite of the Twins.
Meanwhile, in the snowy wastes of the Northlands, a young Northman is taken in by Parrokerrus, priest of the Parents. While the wild lad is silent and appears a brute savage, Parro is determined to raise him, teach him the truth of the Parents, and help him find a place in the harsh prison colony of Aardanel.
Seemingly a world away, siblings Aro and Rora eke out a minimal existence in the “Canals” of the city of Mercetta. Thieving and begging, hiding and killing as necessary to survive the inhuman slums ruled by rival gangs, but as long as the pair remains together they are willing to brave any hardship.
Lastly, there is pure hearted, devoted Keiro. Where Seeker Joros sees his faith in the Twins as a path to power, Keiro views his life as one of pure devotion to a true and noble cause. His desire to convert the misguided lost to the side of the Twins. His spirit constantly seeking divine guidance. His every action tailored to reviving his gods and initiate the creation of a new paradise upon the world.
Once all these individuals are introduced and fleshed out, Shadow actually skips forward in time. Each character having their lives shattered by some unexpected event; a new path forced upon them. The fallout of the destruction placing all but one on an seemingly inevitable collision course, while that one brave soul finds himself on a solitary quest of discovery.
Like most opening volumes in a series, In the Shadow of the Gods puts its best foot forward, wooing a reader with its new ideas, cast of characters, well-thought out world, and promises amazing things to come. And there are a lot of things to like here.
The foremost of them being the world itself with its very believable and combative religions. The faith of the Parents and the Twins are different, interesting, and nebulous enough that the author can go any number of places with the ongoing tale without breaking any established lore. Where it all ends up, whether the Parents or the Twins are evil, whether they rise again, and whether Joros or Keiro’s vision about their true nature is correct is definitely compelling enough to encourage picking up volume two of the series.
The other element I enjoyed was the character Scal. This Northman really resonated for me. His unknown past, his deep respect for his foster father, and his life journey once tragedy strikes making him a conflicted character whose every choice felt important and worth following closely.
To be fair though, just as Shadow had many positive elements, there were a few stumbles, and I feel I should at least mention them for those who are attempting to obtain a clear picture of this novel.
First, the time shifts. There are two of them. Not a few days or weeks or months, but five years the first time and eight years the second time. Lots of life events skipped. I’m sure this was done because nothing important was happening, but if that is the case then it is odd that the characters reappear as changed people whom a reader has to get to know all over again. And, unfortunately, I don’t enjoy having to reconnect with characters over and over again in a story. It could be a personally foible of mine, but I prefer linear stories where I get to follow along and experience my characters growing and evolving, not turn a page and be told they are now different in this way or that way. So, time shifts were a big turnoff for me here.
Second, the book felt too long. Many times it drags badly. Certain scenes and sub-plots seemingly irrelevant (though they could become important in future books) to the main story, serving as mere filler material. These lulls in the momentum of the tale bothering me immensely from time to time, and I felt that many of these section could have been left on the cutting room floor without having impacted the story at all.
But should you givethis book a try?
Absolutely. There are a lot of very cool ideas and themes explored here. Definitely enough fresh and clever twists on epic fantasy to differentiate In the Shadow of the Gods from other fantasy offerings and help me recommend it to other readers. Plus, this is the first installment of the Bound Gods series, so I’m sure Rachel Dunne will gradually tweak this narrative, finding the perfect course to carry the tale to an epic conclusion that none of us will forget.
I received this novel from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.