REVIEW: Gods of the Wyrdwood by RJ Barker

Gods of the Wyrdwood is the latest fantasy novel from RJ Barker. The first in a new trilogy will hold immense appeal to fans who want more after finishing his completed The Tide Child and The Wounded Kingdom trilogies. If you have yet to pick any of Barker’s work, Gods of the Wyrdwood may be the perfect place to start, as with its unique and engaging world, the novel is well worth the reading commitment. It is aptly titled, as Gods of the Wyrdwood does have some wonderfully weird moments but I think that this adds to the enjoyment it can sometimes be a rare thing when reading fantasy to come across something and think, ‘well, that’s totally new.’

Gods of the Wyrdwood I would not describe Gods of the Wyrdwood as an easy read at the start of the novel. Barker is too sparse with the world-building details to ease the reader in. Instead, they are popped into a fully formed and richly detailed world. I’m not too fond of large information dumps in novels, and much prefer to pick it up as I go along, and this is very much what the reader has to do here. However, Barker’s world is so detailed that this picking-up process slows down the pace of the novel’s opening. There is a whole new world of flora and fauna, a pantheon of gods, a leadership system, a magical organisation, and a marriage structure to understand. I eventually got my head around it, but I would have appreciated something like a glossary of terms to be able to speed up this assimilation process.

This initial effort of the reader does then pay dividends as Gods of the Wyrdwood continues. Barker’s world is stunning and fantastical, with new beasties and botanical wonders. The characters in Gods of the Wyrdwood are also well-formed. The protagonist, Cahan is the reverse of the ‘chosen one’ trope – where events from his childhood prove false and have left adult Cahan leading a life of isolation. He is shunned by society and only tolerated for his ability to navigate the treacherous Wyrdwood. Cahan is a character that grew on me as the novel progressed, but one I liked instantly was the monk Udinny. Like Cahan, Udinny is barely tolerated by the people of Harn. But unlike Cahan, she is instantly likeable and is one of the lightest and most joyful characters in a novel that can get quite dark. Barker has also done something few writers do in Gods of the Wyrdwood, where he has created a character I detest. I found Kirven, the High Leoric of Harnspire, utterly irredeemable. This may not be the case for everyone, as Barker does give Kirven depth as a character, and she is not a soulless psychopath, but to me, the abuse of her child was unforgiveable.

It is hard to describe the plot of Gods of the Wyrwood as it meanders around a fair bit. The novel has peaks of excitement and minor skirmishes, but the main conflict becomes apparent at the end of the story. This might not be enjoyable for everyone, but I liked it. Barker is using our time effectively. Everything builds up and proves important, and after the initial persistence through the learning curve of this world, I have engaged the whole way through. Gods of the Wyrdwood is almost Tolkien-esque in that respect, where the journey through the world is as important as the final epic clash. However, Barker’s woods are a smidgen more violent than Tolkien’s.

Gods of the Wyrdwood is a lengthy and entertaining read. Barker has created a beautiful world that balances the dark and deadly with just the right amount of hope. It was a read that I really enjoyed overall, and I will definitely be picking up the next instalment in The Forsaken Trilogy. Thank you very much to RJ Barker and the team over at Orbit for sending a copy of Gods of the Wyrdwood for me to review it.


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Fiona Denton

Fiona Denton

Fiona is a former secondary school teacher and current stay at home parent to two very wild and active children. She lives with them and her husband in the UK and can often be found on a beach paddling in the North Sea or stomping through a forest with the sprogs and hounds. She loves to read and has always enjoyed fantasy novels, particularly the very dark and twisty ones with mythical creatures.