Last Updated on December 23, 2023
Third and final volume in The Grimnir Saga, The Doom of Odin begins where many tales would end. The year is 1347, and Grimnir—the last skraelingr (i.e., orc)—has doggedly tracked his nemesis to Rome, a dying city decimated by the black plague. After nearly 130 years of pursuit, it is there that he plans to fulfill his oath to destroy the resurrected wyrm Níðhöggr, Odin’s chosen weapon and the ancient enemy of Grimnir’s people. As he’s closing in on Níðhöggr’s lair, however, Grimnir is felled by a crossbow bolt loosed by a terrified mercenary. Just like that, a legendary warrior seasoned by a thousand years of battle is snuffed out by a single lucky shot.
Grimnir awakens in Nástrond, a grim realm at the base of the World Tree Yggðrasil. A dark mirror of the humans’ Valhalla, Nástrond is where Grimnir’s extinct people feast, intrigue, and brawl. The family reunion is an acrimonious one, however, as his parents, cousins, and myriad half-brothers despise him as an upstart outsider. The contempt is mutual, as Grimnir feels his fellows have strayed from Loki’s path, more concerned with social jockeying and establishing petty kingdoms than honing each other through constant warfare in preparation for Ragnarök. A treacherous ambush cuts short Grimnir’s afterlife, but while “slain” souls in Nástrond are typically revived a few hours later, Grimnir instead finds himself unceremoniously shunted back into the world of the living. Subsequent deaths catapult Grimnir back and forth between Rome and the Worlds Below, where he doggedly pursues his goals in parallel. In the world of the living, he continues his quest to destroy Níðhöggr and thwart the wyrm’s master, Odin. When in the afterlife, Grimnir strives to discover the source of his mysterious resilience and the role he is destined to play in the final battle of Ragnarök.
Norse mythology figured heavily in both A Gathering of Ravens and Twilight of the Gods. But while the gods and creatures of Scandinavian folklore were marginalized by the encroachment of Christianity in the first two volumes of The Grimnir Saga, having so much of the final book’s action take place in otherworldly realms allows Scott Oden to pull out all the stops, delivering a phantasmagorical epic packed with Scandinavian spirits and monsters. In The Doom of Odin humans are mostly anonymous rabble rather than the central characters they were previously. Instead, Grimnir finds himself struggling against the souls of his vanquished race, fey witches, undead draugar, winged murder-crones, giants, and Odin himself. While the story is consequently less grounded in our historical world than previous volumes, the cosmic elements feel like a natural escalation at this point in the narrative. Oden creates the sense that not only is Ragnarök nigh, it’s also just two steps away.
After following Grimnir’s exploits over two books as the sole surviving skraelingr, it was fascinating seeing him thrown in among his own people. Grimnir’s cocksure bravado and casual cruelty seem ubiquitous among his kind; they act like jackals, constantly circling each other, waiting for an opening to strike. While the skraelingar clearly share a certain base disposition, their personalities are given enough nuance to keep them from feeling one-dimensional. The fierce warrior woman Skaði is a special highlight, especially after seeing Grimnir mostly interact with smaller, more fragile human women in the previous books.
Even compared to the first two volumes, The Doom of Odin revels in vicious, graphic violence. Skulls are smashed and entrails are spilt, and it’s all rendered in vivid detail. Much like the story’s stakes had been raised, it felt like the brutality had been taken up a few notches as well. This wasn’t a negative point for me, if anything it created the sense that Grimnir was truly unchained for the first time, giving in to his empowering rage in a way most works of entertainment warn against. Sensitive readers might find themselves skimming some passages, however.
A minor issue I had with The Doom of Odin is that the cast of characters is considerably larger than before, and Old Norse mythological terms more frequently encountered. There were occasions when I had trouble keeping track of who some of the minor characters were, or what a given branch of the World Tree signified. It was only upon finishing the book that I discovered that a combination glossary/dramatis personae had been tucked away in the back. This appendix would have smoothed over the few rough patches in my reading journey if only the book had drawn my attention to it earlier, perhaps in a table of contents.
Packed with world-shaking events and operatic struggle, The Doom of Odin is an immensely satisfying conclusion to Grimnir’s saga. One of grimdark’s most compelling characters gets exactly the bloody send-off he deserves. Grimnir’s tale couldn’t have ended any other way.