A Gathering of Ravens

Written by Scott Oden

A Gathering of Ravens creates a rich, grim fantasy world made from Norse, Anglo-Saxon and Celtic myth, with strands of Tolkien. Obscure names and references abound but give depth. In his author’s note, Oden says this is his “Orc book,” and he sees his hero, Grimnir, as the last orc, although his monstrous creature calls himself a kaunr or skrælingr.

Oden writes in a concentrated, descriptive style with a dark mood: “Badon was an ancient city and its stones reeked of blood. Étaín could smell it: a metallic stench like wet copper mixed with a miasma of damp rot and sulfur—a distillate of the decay and violence that diverse hands had worked into the foundations of the city.” Grimnir’s goal throughout is to get vengeance for his brother, who was killed by a traitorous relative called the Half-Dane. To assist on this mission, he kidnaps a young Christian woman, Étaín, and drags her along as a guide to England. With Grimnir slaughtering along the way, they cross countries and time in exciting, mythic ways that challenge the Christian’s deep held faith. Grimnir is huge, needs little to no sleep, warmth or food. His face is wolf-like with yellow fangs. He’s that most challenging of heroes, unlikeable. His redeeming moments are scanter than water in the desert, although a reader will like him better at the end than the beginning.

Clever, gory fight scenes and stubborn persistence dominate the plot. Both Grimnir and Étaín are gradually revealed as characters with histories of morally dubious choices who nonetheless achieve good. Recommended for lovers of Tolkien, dark fantasy and northern mythology.