REVIEW: Twilight of the Gods by Scott Oden

Last Updated on July 3, 2024

It is the year 1218, and deep in the wilds of Scandinavia there is a sense that Fimbulvetr, the final winter presaging Ragnarök, is at hand. While the Norse, Danes, and Swedes neighboring them have adopted Christianity, the isolated Raven-Geat tribe reject the so-called “Nailed God” and cling to the old ways. Though surrounded by enemies, the Raven-Geats have a protector known as the Hooded One, immortal herald of the Tangled God Loki. As Twilight of the Gods opens, hot-blooded teenage girl Dísa Dagrúnsdottir has just been chosen by the Fates to serve as the Hooded One’s new priestess. She is shocked to learn that the truculent and mercurial guardian of her people is a literal monster: Grimnir, last of the kaunr, what we would call an orc. As Dísa attempts to survive her new master’s cruel ordeals, a greater threat looms just out of sight. A haunted and deranged zealot fresh from the sack of Constantinople plots a new personal Crusade, one to exterminate the heathen Raven-Geats and unite the Scandinavian peninsula under the White Christ.

Twilight of the GodsSet two centuries after the events of A Gathering of Ravens, Twilight of the Gods is the second volume in Scott Oden’s GRIMNIR SAGA. Twilight of the Gods manages to be both more intimate and more epic than its predecessor. Where A Gathering of Ravens spans more than a decade, roaming from Denmark to England and then Ireland, Twilight of the Gods mostly confines itself to the wilderness of what is now Sweden. The cast of characters is smaller, but the stakes are much higher. While the first book primarily dealt with a personal vendetta, this time a reluctant Grimnir finds himself called upon both to defend the humans he’s been parasitically lording over for generations and fulfill his role in a prophesized religious war threatening to spark the end of the world.

Twilight of the Gods is a book drenched in both grim Norse fatalism and blood & thunder heroics. The novels in the Grimnir Saga depict a North where the Old Gods are in decline. Grimnir is the last of his kind, and other once respected and feared supernatural creatures have likewise become relegated to the margins of the world or gone extinct entirely. The influence of Odin and the old pantheon wanes, displaced by the encroaching Christian faith. For Grimnir and many of the other characters in this book, there’s a pervading feeling that the war has already been lost, yet for various reasons they still gear up to fight one last glorious battle. And readers familiar with Oden’s other work, from the previous Grimnir novel to historical adventures like Men of Bronze and The Lion of Cairo, know that Oden can deliver that final battle with gusto. Simultaneously rousing and horrifying, the combats in this novel blend cinematic action with gory, gritty, down-in-the-mud struggle.

As with A Gathering of Ravens, appealing characters are another strong point in Twilight of the Gods. Oden treads a delicate line with his hero Grimnir; he must appear monstrous enough to feel like an “authentic” orc and not just a brutish costumed human, but not so repellent that the reader finds themselves unable to relate to the character or enjoy his exploits. Grimnir is bellicose, capricious, spiteful, and arrogant. He’s casually brutal and an unrepentant murderer. But he’s also an orc of his word, and never fails to repay a debt. In his dealings with humans, who Grimnir views as little more than animals, Oden also imbues him with a mischievous, amused paternalism. Grimnir may not have a heart of gold, but he’s not an outright villain, either. To preserve Grimnir’s mystique, Oden wisely provides primary viewpoint character Dísa as a counterbalance and foil. Imperfect and impetuous, and sharing more than a little of Grimnir’s arrogance, Dísa is an entertaining heroine to follow. Her undying determination is admirable, and it’s interesting to watch her learn when to push back against Grimnir and when to (grudgingly) accept his brusque guidance.

Despite the exceptional quality of the book, Twilight of the Gods had the misfortune of launching in February 2020, roughly simultaneously with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. With all the societal upheaval, store closures, cancelled events, and supply chain issues that followed, I suspect unlucky timing and curtailed promotions prevented this volume from attracting the audience it deserved. Now is an ideal time to read Twilight of the Gods, however. Its conclusion will leave readers wanting more, just as more is about to arrive: The Doom of Odin, book 3 in THE GRIMNIR SAGA, is scheduled to be released on December 19, 2023.

Wholeheartedly recommended for fans of Vikings, orcs, Viking orcs, tough heroines, Scandinavian metal, and doomed battles against incredible odds.

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Robin Marx

Robin Marx

Born in Spain and raised in the United States, Robin Marx has lived in Japan for more than two decades. He works in the video game industry, handling localization and international licensing. In addition to over a dozen video games, his writing has appeared in a number of role-playing game supplements. He lives with his wife and their two daughters. You can link up with Robin over at: https://mastodon.social/@RobinMarx

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