Published: June 20, 2017
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Pages: 320 (Hardcover)
My Rating: 4.0/5.0
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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
Amongst the readers of the grimdark subgenre, A Gathering of Ravens has been highly anticipated and for good reason. To me it read like Beowulf meets the History Channel’s Vikings and held all the gravitas of an epic of old.
The story itself feels quite dense and isn’t something I could read all in one go. I read small chunks of story over the course of several days and still wish I could have spread it out a little more so it could be properly digested. Nonetheless, it was well written and I enjoyed the meandering journey taken by our characters Grimnir and Etain. Grimnir is known by many names, but for our purposes let’s simplify things and say that he is an orc from legend. Grimnir is on a journey of revenge and Etain is his unwilling guide to England and beyond to Ireland. Eventually she willingly accompanies Grimnir further than she truly needs to because someone’s got to retell this epic story of revenge, right?
A Gathering of Ravens is much more plot driven than character driven, making it more difficult to really bond with the characters as you read. I found that I didn’t particular care about their fates because I felt removed from the plights, successes, and failures they faced. I did warm to them by degrees as the story progressed but it took to around the 50% mark for this to happen. Grimnir’s revenge (a cool alternate title) is the primary plot arc, but the interactions between Etain and Grimnir’s respective beliefs is a close second. Prior to her capture, Etain was disguised as a monk and headed to the monastery of Roskilde to pursue her passion and bring the Danes to Christ. Grimnir is a believer in Odin, the great end time of Ragnarok and all the other Norse mythos that goes along with that. The two butt heads frequently, especially at first, but once Etain and Grimnir traverse the roots of Yggdrasil she cannot deny that the world has depths of which she was unaware. Grimnir also cannot deny that Etain’s belief in Christ is powerful and potent against his kind.
Overall, A Gathering of Ravens was very good and I would go so far as to call it a classic in the making, if only because of the subject matter and the skill in which Oden wove this story. This is essentially a story of revenge, but if you look a bit deeper, it is also a story of what happens when two worlds collide. Christianity is pushing out the Norse mythos, causing strife between those that believe and those that do not adding an additional layer of depth to an already detailed story. I look forward to checking out more of Scott Oden’s books in the future and hope to find some more awesome historical fantasy.