To the Danes, he is skraelingr; to the English, he is orcnéas; 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. It is the year of Our Lord 999 A.D.
There are only a handful of fantasy novels that have an orc, or orcs, as the tales lead protagonist. Stan Nicholls’ humour laden Orc series perhaps being the most notable. Scott Oden’s Grimnir is anything but dim witted, and he certainly isn’t green skinned as the majority of his kind have been portrayed, be it on the printed page or on celluloid. In fact ‘orc’ is not even mentioned once in A Gathering of Ravens. Oden’s creation is described as having red eyes, saturnine features, and a body covered in scars and tattoos of blue woad. However, he is a nasty piece of work, ill-tempered, belligerent and prone to outbursts of extreme violence.
When two Christian’s seek shelter in a cave one storm ravaged night, not realising it is Grimnir’s lair, he grudgingly allows them succour, but only for the night and night only! Blimey does he means it! For come the morning he leaves one of them for dead taking Etain hostage as she’s English, and the object of his vengeance is in England. Or so he believes.
What follows is a violent, blood soaked adventure that takes Grimnir and Etain from the frozen landscape of Demark, via Christianity dominated England, to the stubbornly pagan Ireland in a taut, efficiently lean novel.
Etain views Grimnir as a minion of the Devil. Grimnir despises Christianity and its ‘Nailed God’ for leaching away the natural magic of the land.
In A Gathering of Ravens Oden has expertly weaved Norse, Saxon and Celtic mythology and it is almost heart breaking to witness Grimnir realise that the old beliefs are succumbing to the new religion. A religion that dogmatically cannot, will not, abide the myth and magic of the old ways and how the world is all the poorer because of that. Even Etain, a devout Christian, begins to see that perhaps there is room for both belief systems if only the Church would allow it.
It’s refreshing to read a fantasy novel that is stand-alone and just over three hundred pages, although Oden has confirmed that Grimnir’s adventures will continue in further stand-alone novels.
Oden has received much critical praise for his previous historical novels, but A Gathering of Ravens is his first fantasy albeit in a historical setting. If you’re a fan of Bernard Cornwall’s Saxon saga, or David Gemmell’s muscular fantasy’s, then you would be hard pressed to find a novel that satisfies on both fronts.
A GATHERING OF RAVENS / AUTHOR: SCOTT ODEN / PUBLISHER: BANTAM PRESS / RELEASE DATE: 29TH JUNE