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Twilight of the Gods by Scott Oden

Twilight of the Gods by Scott Oden
4.5
Book Name: Twilight of the Gods
Author: Scott Oden
Publisher(s): St. Martin's Press
Formatt: Hardcover / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Historical Fantasy
Release Date: February 18, 2020

The climax of Twilight of the Gods begins on a misty morning with characters as blind to their fate as the gods they fight for, and against. The mist hides surprises not only for the combatants but for all fans of Grimnir, Oden’s immortal orcish antihero, whom we first meet in A Gathering of Ravens.

Twilight is set roughly two hundred years after the events of Ravens, so it’s not a direct sequel and can be read as a standalone. This time, instead of kidnapping a young woman and dragging her on a journey of revenge along the branches of Yggðrasil, the Norse tree of life, Grimnir has settled into a relatively cushy gig as the Hooded One, a gods-anointed defender of a pagan community, one of the last in Northern Europe to withstand the creeping onslaught of Christianity. Upon the death of the priestess who serves as intermediary between Grimnir and the village he has sworn to protect, a teenager named Disa is picked to be his new acolyte. Disa isn’t very happy with this arrangement. She wanted to become a shieldmaiden, not an errand girl. However, she’s clever and tough as nails, which are exactly the qualities Grimnir admires—not that he’d ever admit to liking anything—and so begins a classic pairing between a grouchy old guy and his smart-mouthed female prodigy. But this ain’t the Bad News Bears; it’s Ragnaroc, and the end of the world is nigh.

Grimnir’s immortality is driven by vengeance. In Ravens, he pursued the half-brother whose treachery left his father at the mercy of Irish elves. In Twilight, Grimnir has been hanging out near Disa’s village so he can avenge the deaths of his mother and uncle. He’s the last of his kind, a flickering remnant of the old gods, fighting extinction while he waits for the dragon that destroyed his family to emerge from hiding, so he can kill it.

Throughout intertwined narratives from the perspective of Grimnir, Disa, and a Christian crusader named Konraðr, Oden explores the cost of loyalty to family and community. When we first meet Disa, she’s hungry for battlefield glory and anxious to live up to the heroic example set by her long-dead mother. Yet as the conflict escalates between her people and Konrad’s Christian soldiers, she discovers the price of entry to Valhalla may not be worth it, if it means the deaths of people you care about. Konraðr comes to Disa’s land seeking a dead saint’s relic, but he too has a lot to learn about blind commitment to one’s goals. He believes he’s fulfilling the Lord’s will by killing heathens, but the spirits guiding him aren’t the holy kind. Yet though Konraðr’s quest may be misguided and his tactics brutal, Oden takes care to build the reader’s sympathy for him, just as he does for Grimnir. There can be no good guys and bad guys in a dark fantasy with a murderous orc as the central protagonist.

Oden is one of the best writers out there, and it’s a surprise and a shame his books aren’t better known. His prose is beautifully descriptive and compelling whether he’s describing dawn on a misty vale or the bloody dance of swords. Historical details are meticulous and bring the reader into each scene with vivid, film-like clarity. Italicized terms from Old Norse dot the text like wildflowers, but never bog the reader down. Names like Hrafnhaugr (Disa’s village) may be composed of unfamiliar jumbles of consonants, but they add cultural texture and flavor, like Disa’s bone hairpins and the mead-filled crockery hidden in her rucksack. In the mold set by masters of classic fantasy, Oden deftly wields omniscient narration to build tension and reveal character. The approach has fallen out of fashion as most modern authors use first or limited third person narratives to hew close to a single point of view character’s perceptions, but this sort of old style storytelling fits Oden’s old style saga as snugly as Grimnir’s seax fits in its sheath.

All in all, Twilight of the Gods is a grim, grueling, and glorious tale of revenge, loyalty, and ambition. It’s also gripping set up to a larger conflict between Grimnir and gods old and new, a story that will be continued in Doom of Odin, which is set to be released late in 2022—that is, unless Ragnaroc descends on us all first.

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