Orctober: Why You Should Read A Gathering of Ravens

Welcome to Orctober, Gentle Readers!  Orctober, if you’re not aware of it, is the BEST month.  It’s the month we devote to all Orc-related pursuits — art, music, writing, cosplay, what have you.  For my inaugural Orctober post, I’m going to spend a few words to convince you, the reader, to not just pick up a copy of A Gathering of Ravens, but to go out there and digitally talk about it.  Why?  Well, to be honest, the book business has changed.  While we still live and die based on sales, the Powers That Be have discovered that those sales can be influenced by social media activity.  And, like all things book marketing related, unless you’re one of the anointed few, the onus of getting that activity going is on the author.

“Grimnir” by Jason Deem

And thus, in the spirit of getting you, dear Readers, to buy and read, then post on Reddit, Twitter, FB, TikTok, or booktube about all things Grimnir, I give you my Top Nine Reasons You Should Read A Gathering of Ravens:

1 ORCS, MAN!

Though I never use the word in the book, Grimnir is an Orc.  He is based on the Tolkien model — brutal, cruel, and profane.  There are call backs to JRRT in his DNA: his people were once Norse dwarves who were tricked into consuming the afterbirth of Angrboða’s monstrous children.  That changed them.  Twisted them.  They became a new and blighted form of life, savage, cunning, black-blooded, and immune to aging or disease.  But, unlike Tolkien’s Orcs, Grimnir and his people possess free will.  They serve no masters but themselves.

2 UNIQUE SETTING

Most Orc novels present secondary worlds in which to set their tale, worlds where the existence of Orcs might not be questioned, overmuch.  Not so, A Gathering of Ravens!  It’s set in OUR WORLD, at the end of the Viking Age, circa 1014 AD (though the story starts in 999 AD), with all the baggage that entails.  It takes place in Denmark, in the west of England, and in Ireland.  That was the original challenge of the book: present Orcs in an historical setting and make them seem as though they belong there.

3 STRANGE FOLK

Grimnir’s people aren’t the only hold-outs to an earlier, mythic age.  The changing landscape of the 11th century is home to a variety of spirits and creatures, all grasping at the tattered remnants of the Elder Days as the Nailed God’s influence spreads.  From three dvergar brothers who tend the roots of Yggðrasil, to a land-wight who has found the Lord, to a pale and imperious álfr living in the shadow of Irish Dubhlinn . . . there’s all kinds of weirdness in these pages.

4 HEAPING DISH OF VENGEANCE

Plain and simple, A Gathering of Ravens is a story of revenge.  Though he despises most of his kin, Grimnir nevertheless seeks vengeance for the murder of his brother, Hrungnir — a brother whose nom de guerre among the Danes is Grendel.  That should tell you something of where the tale is headed.  Grimnir is implacable and indefatigable.  He’s also an asshole.  If he’d journey across the changing world to avenge the murder of someone he didn’t give a rat’s ass about in life, just think what he’d do to those who’d cross him over something near and dear to his black, flinty heart . . .

“Grimnir” by Zoltan

5 GRIM AND DARK

The book is grim.  It’s violent.  Grimnir is a profane anti-hero who’d lie, cheat, steal, or kill to get his own way.  He has hardly a single redeeming quality, save one: if he gives his word, neither god nor man can stop him from seeing an oath fulfilled.  The world he inhabits is one on the edge of ruin.  The Old Ways are all but gone, and the Nailed God’s presence is inimical to his kind.  His world is dying . . .

6 BUT NOT GRIMDARK

Even so, there’s hope.  Doorways exist between our world, Miðgarðr, and the other worlds under Yggðrasil’s boughs.  There, the Nailed God cannot go; the Elder Days live on in the shadow of the Nine Worlds.  Grimnir can go, rejoin his people . . . if he so chooses.  It’s not nihilistic or bleak, this world of his.  It is merely changing.

7 SWORD . . .

Grimnir is an Orc written under the influence of Robert E. Howard.  He’s a brawler, a throat-slitter; handy with an axe or blade.  One reviewer likened him to “Conan with a hangover and a toothache.”  That’s as apt a description as you’re likely to find.  He’s not subtle; his philosophy boils down to “kill your enemy before that dunghill rat kills you!”  And that’s what he does.  A lot.  And it’s described in as bloody and graphic a fashion as you’re likely to find in a REH tale.

8 . . . AND SORCERY

And while he’s handy with a blade, Grimnir has a small bit of sorcerous lore . . . which he mostly uses to bedevil slumbering landvættir.  But, he is capable of chaotic Big Sorcery, if he puts his mind to it.  There are no magic “systems” in A Gathering of Ravens.  Sorcery is wild and unpredictable, like a hammer that can go awry.  It’s designed to fit the historical background, so there’s no “battlefield” magic, no fireballs or magic missiles.  There are rituals, glamours, and callings, fueled by blood and realized by haggling with those few remaining spirits to see it done.

9 STEEPED IN NORSE MYTH

You’ve probably noticed this one, by now.  The book is a riff on the idea Tolkien discovered the inspiration for his Orcs in Norse myth, and the idea that these myths were based on a real creature or race.  A creature of Viking nightmare called a skrælingr (a name applied to the Native Americans by the Norse, but with echoes of something older and darker; something Vikings feared).  Actual recorded history blended with mythology is the foundation of Grimnir’s world.  He stalks the shadows of the modern age, bearing with him the hint of an ancient and deadly world . . . a world where spirits haunted the trackless forests and monsters lurked in fen and moor, where men clung to their fires and prayed to their gods that the pitiless skrælingar would pass them by in the night.

Thomas Dunne Books, 2017

And that’s why you, Gentle Reader, should grab a copy of A Gathering of Ravens — as a gift for another, if you’ve read it yourself — and talk about it across the Internet.  To get noticed, even for a five year old book, requires lots of people talking, posting, dissecting, and recommending.  I invite you to have at it, in the spirit of Orctober.

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8 thoughts on “Orctober: Why You Should Read A Gathering of Ravens

Add yours

  1. I agree with Jenn: You had me at Orc!

    And though it’s been on my radar for many moons, “it looks like meat’s back on the table, boys! (+ girls)” and feeling a needy hunger to get it right away!

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