Reader’s Recommendation: Godborn, by Dan Davis
How many fantasy tales of the Bronze Age are there? I’ve only heard of one, mostly because I just finished reading it.
Godborn is as enjoyable as I expected, an original gem like an amber stone. Earthy, bone and spear tales of what one might associate with the prehistoric or our mythic cycle. There’s roots here of the first tribes and demigods, made in a plausible and feet-on-the-ground way. You feel it’s the sort of grounded interpretation of things inspiring 300, The 13th Warrior/Eaters of the Dead and the like, where everything is a raw kind of adventure.
Sharp and tactile, you get it from the font and the hunter gatherer feeling of the introduction, a steeped love of the Bronze Age from the author leaving an impression in this story, and likely many others Davis writes. A clear, chilled kind of story that enters your bones, when one thinks of hunting, mountain climbing, the brutal life of ages past. Not as romantically endearing as a Conan story, but close. The hyperborean mindset and prehistoric adventure but given a flavour of historic realism, an Olympian cousin to Robert Egger’s film The Northman.
Hefty size. Like all the good fantasy books I’ve bought it has the large shape, clear font good for combat and dialogue scenes, like the series covers and the titular hero it’s clearly designed to stand out. Olympian aesthetics and mentality.
I have never, not in any fiction read violence so visceral, nor the defeat of an evil enemy so satisfying. I hope, when my own first novel is finished that it does approach the same skill of effect. I really, really do not wish to spoil the experience of recognising the names, piecing together quite and impressively built world made of sagas and rites; mostly of people. This is not and should not be a fantasy series with maps, second languages, and an associated wiki. Godborn makes you want to run, swim, appreciate where people’s practices, the oldest professions, and our human bonds came from. It is an impressive and self-contained work I suppose, but one I would wish had as many sequels as The Chronicles of Narnia, or A Song of Ice and Fire. I feel as though I have read part of The Old Testament, part of The Iliad, and an Icelandic saga all at once, though I truly do not know what to make of the style. I can simply say I liked it, immensely. I enjoy that it shifts to grow more visceral and into consistent stages of progression.
To my eyes I can say there are three acts and a bildungsroman, conducted so smoothly and effectively I only noticed after reading the latter two at once. It makes sense to know there are hundreds of pages here, but the last 300 I simply refused to put down until reaching the end of the tale. This book benefits greatly from a blind reading, something subtle like the perspective shift, the setting being unveiled, or how names and ideas come together feel arranged meticulously according to the will of the story itself.
Davis developed this story based around how the audience member is engaged. It is clear, and very obvious that this novel does not follow conventions. Aside from chapters, the differentiation of critical events is not in acts, not where there are expectations. Like true history, or a real saga we are given not simply significance, but the reality of a discovery taking time to culminate or simply be dropped at the right time, there are no benefits or advantages unearned or still may not be broken and contested.
If you enjoy reading an unfolding narrative about tribal warfare, melding into the supernatural and admiring the tenacity of early human pre-civilisation and individual heroism against refreshingly evil and despotic madmen I highly recommend this book. It is a small door stop and very viscerally bloody; but for some this is as much a positive as it could be perceived as a negative. Easily one of the most original books on the current market and an ambitious fantasy novel laden with action and consequence rather than laborious subplots or social commentary. 10,000 BC meets The Twelve Labours, you know whether you’re in or out just reading that concept.
All the best,
Davis, D. Godborn. Independently Published, Monee, IL. 2022.