To the Danes, he is skraelingr; to the English, he is orcneas; to the Irish, he is fomoraig. He is Corpse-maker and Life-quencher, the Bringer of Night, the Son of the Wolf and Brother of the Serpent. He is Grimnir, and he is the last of his kind–the last in a long line of monsters who have plagued humanity since the Elder Days.
Drawn from his lair by a thirst for vengeance against the Dane who slew his brother, Grimnir emerges into a world that’s changed. A new faith has arisen. The Old Ways are dying, and their followers retreating into the shadows; even still, Grimnir’s vengeance cannot be denied.
Taking a young Christian hostage to be his guide, Grimnir embarks on a journey that takes him from the hinterlands of Denmark, where the wisdom of the ancient dwarves has given way to madness, to the war-torn heart of southern England, where the spirits of the land make violence on one another. And thence to the green shores of Ireland and the Viking stronghold of Dubhlinn, where his enemy awaits.
But, unless Grimnir can set aside his hatreds, his dream of retribution will come to nothing. For Dubhlinn is set to be the site of a reckoning–the Old Ways versus the New–and Grimnir, the last of his kind left to plague mankind, must choose: stand with the Christian King of Ireland and see his vengeance done or stand against him and see it slip away?
Scott Oden’s A Gathering of Ravens is an epic novel of vengeance, faith, and the power of myth.
|Netgalley||eARC||336||St Martin’s Press||Historical Fantasy||June 29th, 2017|
If you read the whole synopsis for the book then a round of applause to you and, really, it’s the most comprehensive synopsis I’ve come across in a while. What the book promises, book delivers. Vengeance? Check. Faith? Check. Myth? Check.
Eh, but this is going to be such a difficult review for me, because even though I could see the things I could appreciate, there was something about the book overall that failed to fully capture me and convert me into a diehard fan.
A Gathering of Ravens is a story of revenge, set in the time of Vikings when the power play in between Odin and Jesus was in full swing. (And we all know who came out on top, damn it!) The historical settings, myth and magic are intertwined as Grimnir (an evil, ugly AF orc) takes hostage a Christian to be his guide in England. Together they travel from Denmark via Yggdrasil to England. On the way they meet dwarves, get up to all sorts of super violent and bloody shenanigans and generally have a proper spat over whose god is the best!
The second half of the book takes us closer to the ‘revengee‘. We are now in Ireland, Dublin and get introduced to elves, nature spirits, a couple of witches and local armies battling it out. We get a great look at the Half Dane who Grimnir is after and the implications of his power and ambition. TBH, anything that Grimnir might have in store for him, no Christian would stand in the way of. Half Dane is awful.
So, a couple of observations overall:
That Grimnir needed a guide, is questionable. I am more than certain that Grimnir the mighty Corpse-maker and Life-quencher, the Bringer of Night, the Son of the Wolf and Brother of the Serpent would have managed just fine on his own on the journey to find Half-Dane. He had the means and tools to not need a Christian ‘fellow’ hanging with him. The only reason those two characters were thrust together was purely for the ‘entertainment‘ factor, I suspect, upon which the above mentioned religious spat depended on.
Another thing with the mixology of myth, history and otherwordly beings was just that I felt there was a whole pile of different elements put into the story and as such most of their presences were fleeting and not entirely built upon to their full potential. OK, their parts in the story were valid and necessary to play their part, but I didn’t get entirely not enough of them… I would have liked to have more of a hand in play by the Witches, dwarves, elves and spirits. But that’s just me… personal preference alert here, guys!
The first half of the book went rather slowly for me because all it was was a strong clash of beliefs with a trippy trip via Yggdrasil and nothing but brutal behavior. The second half of the book was more full bodied and had a lot more going on. Still, reading A Gathering of Ravens was a bit laborious for me… the characters didn’t go through tangible development, there was a whole lot more praying going on than I could stomach and all the brutality (whether by action or word) felt a bit automatic or mechanical because it moved from one bloody murder to the next bloody beating… Essentially, this is a book of bloody action to the extremes but without any real substance to the characters which I would have liked. Simply explaining actions by way of their respective religion gave me no indication of the people behind and beyond their religion. Well, no.. I lie… everyone in this book was evil in a way, Christian or heathen. But yes, I guess what was missing was soul… (I’m laughing here now…Do evil beings even have souls? let me ask the Christian!) See? I told you, it’s a hard review to write… I don’t even know!
So yes, I have to admit, Grimnir’s ‘statements‘/dialogues were fantastically principled and loyal to Odin and the Old ways, with bits of evil contempt and sarcasm thrown in but I don’t know if it’s just because he was an Orc, but that was pretty much all there was to him and it got a bit old rather soonish.
Having said all of the above, I can see and appreciate how certain elements were used to create this historical fantasy and all the pieces did fit together well enough. I don’t consider myself an expert in historical fact, myth or old tales to be able to analyze them and give you a factual overview.
You can expect some flashbacks to get you up to speed for why an Orc is seeking for revenge, also some rhymes and tons of interesting characters making their rather short but useful appearances and… yeah, I’m saying it again- some bloody gore… Odin’s will is going to be read from livers…
I think this is a book that will either completely and utterly satisfy a reader or not be what was expected at all… I’m sitting smug in the middle… It was in parts great, in parts not so much but I sure am happy I read the book and I look forward to reading more reviews of the book!