Book Review: A Time of Dread (Of Blood and Bone #1) by John Gwynne

A Time of Dread by John Gwynne

Rating:  ★★★1/2

Blurb (from GoodReads):  A race of warrior angels, the Ben-Elim, once vanquished a mighty demon horde. Now they rule the Banished lands, but their peace is brutally enforced.

In the south, hotheaded Riv is desperate to join the Ben-Elim’s peacekeeping force, until she unearths a deadly secret.

In the west, the giantess Sig investigates demon sightings and discovers signs of an uprising and black magic.

And in the snowbound north, Drem, a trapper, finds mutilated corpses in the forests. The work of a predator, or something far darker?

It’s a time of shifting loyalties and world-changing dangers. Difficult choices need to be made. Because in the shadows, demons are gathering, waiting for their time to rise…

I picked this up because I’ve been meaning to read Gwynne for awhile.  I meant to start with the first book set in this world: Malice, but I was trying to decide whether I wanted to request the third book in this series for review.  One of my GoodReads buddies told me I really should have started with Malice in order to fully appreciate this book.

But I’m not really sure it would have helped any.  When I first started reading, I was very happy.  We started with a battle and lots of action, the characters felt unique and fun, the pacing and chapter length were perfect for me.

However, the novelty wore off relatively quickly.  The action slows down after those initial few chapters, and Gwynne’s writing style isn’t one that necessarily agrees with me. For starters, I should mention the reason I’ve dragged my feet on this one for so long:  angels and demons have never really been my thing.  I find the black and white line of “good” and “evil” between them superficial and incredibly boring. I like my villains with a soft side and my heroes with shades of gray.

To be fair to Gwynne, his angels, or Ben-Elim, aren’t necessarily pure of heart.  They don’t preach endless forgiveness and do react with extreme cruelty to “lore-breakers”.  But then, evangelism really sort of irritates me too.  And the demons are exactly as one note as you would expect.

I did enjoy some of the characters, namely Drem and Sig.  Riv and Bleda’s storylines felt extremely YA to me- the warrior training, the lore learning, petty rivalries, and of course, the stupid love triangle.  I feel like there might be a fifth perspective I’m missing, and that sure does say a lot doesn’t it?  Considering I only finished a week ago.

Gwynne’s writing isn’t bad, and my issue with it comes strictly from a personal preference.  The characters all have inner monologues, which we are told, and which are italicized.  I know it’s not the first time I’ve seen inner monologues written down, however, here, for some reason they felt highly unnecessary and broke the flow of the writing.  Worse still, they seemed to become more frequent as the book went on.  I just didn’t like it.

What I did like about this book, aside from the angels and demons, was that the world-building is a lot of fun.  There are different tribes and regions, giants riding bears, magical swords, rich histories… And Gwynne more or less delivers it without it feeling info dump-y.  Newcomers to Gwynne can easily pick up this book and read it as if it was first book set in this world, even if returning fans might appreciate it a little more.

There are some gut wrenching emotional moments, so he succeeded in making me care at least.  I am still undecided as to whether I will continue the series.  I borrowed book two alongside book one, and with my local libraries closed, I’m able to keep it much longer than expected, so I might.  I don’t think I’ll be requesting the ARC because I want to be free to leave these books behind if book two doesn’t agree with me.

I know this series is well loved by many, and it’s entirely possible that I wasn’t in the right mood to read this, so take my review with a grain of salt.  A Time of Dread can be found on GoodReads if you’d like to check it out for yourself.

Have you read A Time of Dread?  What did you think?



Book Review: Beowulf as translated by Seamus Heaney

Just a quick review today for a very quick read.  I’m ashamed to say this is the first time I’ve ever read Beowulf, Vikings fanatic that I am.  I am happy to say, I was not disappointed.

Beowulf Seamus Heaney

Rating:  ★★★★

Book description: This is the story of a famous Swede named Beowulf and his many amazing feats of heroism.

I read the Heaney translation because I see it recommended everywhere, and also because I have heard that it was the most accessible.  I have too much on my plate right now to spend a lot of time agonizing over the meaning of words, so I went with Heaney.  Sometime in the future I do think I’d like to check out the Tolkien translation and see how that pans out.

I am happy to report, it’s as readable as everyone says.  I didn’t have to puzzle much over words.  There were a few sections I had to re-read, just to be certain I had the gist of it, but nothing too time consuming.  It never hindered my enjoyment of the book.

The first thing I noticed was the presence of a very Christian God.  I don’t know why I didn’t expect this.  The likelihood that this was translated by a priest somewhere in time is very high, and even if it wasn’t a priest it still would have been someone of the Christian faith seeing as how the Norse didn’t have a system of written language outside of runes.  Though I’m certain some of them may eventually have learned, they likely would have been Christian too by then.

Yet the text still maintains many of it’s original Norse mythologies.  We see some references of giants and elves and omens.  It was a painful reminder about how many histories have been over or rewritten throughout time.  That’s just my guess though.   The Norse people did convert in the end so I suppose it’s equally as possible that the story was retold by one of their own.

I don’t know if one of my favorite authors or series was ever influenced by Beowulf, even if it was just the language, but my heart overflowed with joy to hear talk of the sword-Danes, spear-Danes and shield-Danes, along with gold givers and ring givers.  I was taken aback by just how much Beowulf probably has influenced in all the years to come.  I would very much like to re-read The Lord of the Rings and see what new meaning I can take away from it.

There are a lot of things about the text that are wholly unbelievable.  Early on, Beowulf claims to have swam in the water for five days straight while wearing mail and swords.  I just don’t believe this is possible for even the most in shape dude on the planet.  I think you’d have to be Superman or something.  So even though it was kind of silly, I still appreciated it as a way of having pride in one’s culture.

**WARNING: Here there be spoilers.***

I only deducted a star because the ending felt very disjointed to me.  Perhaps I misunderstood, but it seemed like we flashed forward to what life would be like without Beowulf and then flashed back to Beowulf lying dead on the beach.  Being that it’s in verse, the only real transition we get is one of Heanus’s “chapter” headings.  So it was very jarring.  In a novel, I think it would have been fine if these had been projected as a vision or something from Beowulf’s own mind.

***End Spoilers***

This is a must read for fantasy fans and history lovers alike.  It’s about the length of a novella/novelette so it can be read in just a day and is worth the time investment.

Next week I’ll be reading The Mere Wife, a modern suburban retelling of Beowulf and I can’t wait to start!

Beowulf can be purchased on Amazon here and found on GoodReads here.