Saturday, 17 June 2017

A Gathering of Ravens

A Gathering of Ravens

by Scott Oden

2 out of 5

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.

When a Christian stumbles into Grimnir's lair, the orc and the innocent become two unlikely companions, in a story of revenge and faith.

I received a free copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

When two Christians seek shelter in a cave during a mission to a monastery, Njall and "Aidan" don't realise they are trespassing in the home of a monster. Grimnir is quickly established as something brutal and eternal, a danger from a long-passed time.
(On a side note: "Aidan" had to leave his home, and that Njall had warned him not to fall for any of the monks at the monastery. I was really impressed that one of our central characters was going to be gay, in what was already a heavily religion-driven story, two pages in.
Cue disappointment, when "Aidan" is actually revealed to be Etain, a woman disguising herself as a man to travel more safely.)

After an agreed night of peace between them, Grimnir decides to take Etain as his guide, as she comes from Britain and can help him track down his nemesis, the Half-Dane...

Ok, so first of all, Grimnir is an absolute bastard. He's happy to kill anyone, even those who seek to help him. He's brutal and stubborn; he's derogatory about everyone and everything.
But you know what, I liked him as our anti-hero-mass-murdering-villain. He stuck to his principles throughout the book, and never lightened up. That's great, and hard to come by in a lot of books.

Etain on the other hand, I just wished someone would kill her off. She's a very devout Christian, and throughout the book, both her offence and defence against barbarians, spirits of vengeance, etc, is to pray and trust that God will deliver her. Seriously? Praying didn't do any of the other background cast any help?
I just couldn't believe the woman's backstory,
<Spoiler>Where she has the gumption to get out of a bad marriage and stop men using her, by betraying her city to the invading Danes.</spoiler>
and then she just proves useless for the rest of the book.
I don't even know why Grimnir needed her at all. He's been around for centuries, and he thinks he needs this ninny, because he hasn't been to England for a few years? Especially when they use that special road and sodding 15 years pass! So she doesn't know anything current, anyway.

To be honest, I quite liked that magic road and other little bits, where it felt like Oden was weaving the Old World and the new. Those were well done, and felt real and ancient, and fading. BUT, it didn't always help the plot.

There's a major emphasis on religion, on how the old world, with its spirits and gods; was fading away to be replaced with Christianity.
On the one hand, I really liked that this book is very neutral. It accepts all religions, and treats them as real, tangible things. You have Odin, and the Nailed God, and various others; and none are portrayed as better than the others - they're only made more powerful by the faith of their worshippers. So, as people opt to worship the Nailed God, the rest will inevitably fade.
On the other hand, I don't like it when religion is shoved down your throat. It is on every single page of this book. Enough already.

Anyways, overall I was BORED.
It should have been awesome, an historical take on the British Isles; orcs with vengeance; and an impending war.
The first half of the book, I really had to force myself to read. We follow Grimnir as he traipses around Britain, dragging the useless Etain with him. He gripes, he kills, he gripes some more. She whines. Ugh.
It was only in the second half, when the Half-Dane and his Dubhlinn Witch come into play that things finally got interesting. Finally, there were betrayals and political drama. There was more than mindless killing, and mindless companions.

The second half scored the two stars, you just have to get through the first half to get there.

Goodreads link
Amazon UK

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