Author: Joshua Gillingham
Torin Ten-Trees and his closest companions, Bryn and Grimsa, set out to join The Gatewatch and become trollhunters. When a troupe of meddling dwarves throws them off course they are captured by trolls and taken as prisoners to a secret gathering deep underground. There they learn that an ancient giant has crowned himself king of the trolls and plans to utterly destroy The Gatewatch. Their perilous journey back to the land of sun and stars will stretch their strength to the limit, strain their wits, and demand an unspeakable sacrifice. But will it be enough to defeat the Troll King? The Gatewatch is an epic troll-hunting adventure inspired by the Norse Myths and the Icelandic Sagas.
Before touching on my review of this book, I want to say how much I love the cover art from Helena Rosova. It’s eye catching, it gives you an idea about the book before reading, it’s interesting to look back on after reading and it generally really just fits perfectly with the whole vibe of the book. I got a little bit of a Bayeux Tapestry, a little bit of stained glass window, a little bit of Viking art – it sets you up for something decidedly old school, and that’s what we get with The Gatewatch.
This book didn’t feel like a typical fantasy book. Not one I read these days. In fact, it transported me back to reading myths and legends as an eager young reader, hoping my parents wouldn’t notice the light and tell me to turn it off with school the next morning. It took me back to Beowulf and Grendel, it took me back to Norse sagas. In fact, excluding the Norse myths, it took me back to The Hobbit. It really reminded me of The Hobbit!
Despite being promoted as an adult fantasy book, it is entirely appropriate for teens and perhaps more mature readers of a younger age too. There are a couple of swear words but nothing really that a parent would be otherwise troubled by. Unlike the Hobbit, it isn’t written with younger readers as the intended audience so there is no reason to market it so. I enjoyed it just as much as I would have if there was sex, bloodier violence or more mature themes. It’s a fun tale with themes of friendship, adventure, discovery and humour. And it was a welcome break to enjoy all these things without it obviously being aimed at a younger audience, or the opposite and having too much darkness.
I spoke to my friend and fellow blogger Kriti part way through reading this (check out her review here) and she hit the nail on the head when she said this would be the sort of book that would look really good illustrated. It has that magical saga feel to it that would translate well to a leather bound coffee table book, for example. A book for the family – with possibly the word twat omitted in that edition!
I haven’t visited Scandinavia yet, though The Gatewatch has made me really want to. There are some beautiful settings and you really get a feel for the locations. Of course, they’re made better by the interesting inhabitants that populate them – Madur, Nidavel, Skimsli and Jotur. Human, Dwarf, Goblin and Giant, respectively. We also have the monstrous Trolls – the whole reason The Gatewatch (imagine a sort of more cheerful and full-of-food Castle Black) exists.
In terms of tropes, some will be familiar while Gillingham puts his own slant on others. The Skimsli for example are exactly what you’d expect with Goblins – weak but vicious creatures that use numbers to their advantage, but ultimately cowardly and fickle. The Nidavel share many traits with the Dwarves we are familiar with, though the image is more through the eye of the Viking Skalds, as the author points out in his preface. The first band of Nidavel we are introduced to for example are mischievous, cunning and devious. They’re not the immensely strong and formidable battle axe wielders we have come to know through Lord of the Rings, Warhammer and D&D. They’re still master crafters though and this plays an important part in the story.
I have to admit I wasn’t entirely certain just how formidable the trolls are – there was a scene where a full axe blow on the skull of a sleeping troll merely tickled its head and made it think there was a drip of water leaking from above, whereas later an axe blow is able to slice into a troll’s skull. Nevertheless, it’s not a book that takes itself too seriously and this type of thing is only a minor nitpick in the context of a fun and engaging wider story. It’s not the sort of in depth tome with complicated magic or political machinations many fantasy readers might be used to so I do stress to approach it with this in mind and just enjoy a laid back tale!
Part of this laid back and fun feeling comes through the camaraderie between our three friends we are introduced to at the start of the story; Torin, Bryn and Grimsa. Their banter is really enjoyable and found myself smiling quite a few times whilst reading, with Grimsa being my favourite. He prefers ale and feasting to anything serious and I can certainly relate to that!
Aside from the story itself, I really enjoyed the author’s passion for Norse mythology which shone through before, during and after the main story. We have a preface, pronunciation guide (there are no annoying difficult names – but the Scandinavian pronunciation of words will be different to what English speakers might expect on seeing a word), notes on verses and some really nice maps. We also get a nice appendix at the end as well as a preview for the next book.
This book will make you want to read some more Viking myths and visit Scandinavia and I think it does brilliantly with what it sets out to do; a fun filled, entertaining adventure based on Viking mythology!
About the author
Joshua Gillingham is a Canadian author from the scenic city of Nanaimo, BC. There he enjoys life with his adventurous spouse and their two very unadventurous cats. The Gatewatch, his debut novel, was born of his unremitted fascination with Norse Myths and Icelandic Sagas. Joshua’s lyrical maritime ballad The Queen of the Rose Marie was selected for the Short Story Dispenser Project hosted by Short ?dition and his award-winning essay ?Becoming a Resilient Writer? has been featured on several sites for aspiring writers. When he is not hunched over his laptop sipping coffee and tapping frantically at the keyboard, Joshua performs Irish and Maritime music with The Ugly Mugs and designs viking-themed board games for Little Hammer Games.