Book Review: The Gatewatch by Joshua Gillingham

The Gatewatch by Joshua Gillingham is not a standard modern fantasy. It has a lot more in common with more ‘classical’ fantasy than a lot of what is published today and it brings bucket loads of whimsy and charm to a story that is heavily inspired by Norse mythology.

At its core, it is an adventure story filled with dwarfs, goblins, trolls and giants and a heavy theme of friendship and camaraderie. The story revolves around three friends – Torin Ten-Trees, Bryn Foxfoot, and Grimsa Jarnskald – as they travel across the mountains to join an order called The Gatewatch. These warriors are selected from amongst the youth of the kingdom every two years and guard against the trolls and monsters that lurk in the lands beyond the border. However, things don’t go quite as planned for our three intrepid adventurers and they uncover a plot by a giant, who has crowned himself as the Troll King, to destroy the Gatewatch.

From the word go it was obvious this book would bring absolute spades of beautiful, evocative writing. Gillingham really captures the rugged beauty of the Norse landscape and immerses us in the atmosphere of the story throughout. I have to say, I loved it and each page seemed to painted an image in my head. Truly, I need to visit the fjords of Norway and hills of Iceland after reading this!

The writing and story is utterly charming and fun. It doesn’t take itself very seriously and has some silly moments, while the characters and friends have some with great banter that makes them feel truly close. You’ve got to love great, heart-warming friendships in your stories and this definitely brings that.

The light-heartedness that pervades the story and the way it is written makes it quite appropriate for teenage or slightly younger readers, despite being an adult fantasy – though, there are one or two swear words and a lot of references to drinking. So just be aware of that. This lighter side of fantasy was a quite a refreshing change for me as a lot of what I read, and a lot of what is published these days, errs on the side of the grittier and grim-dark side. I’m sure regular readers of my reviews know I love me some gritty fantasy (hence why I read a lot of it) but it was nice to read something a bit more whimsical and classic here.

As a side note, I have seen The Gatewatch frequently compared to is The Hobbit. This was honestly one of the things that really drew me to want to pick this book up as The Hobbit is an old favourite of mine and anything with even a hint of its charm is going to be a winner for me. It’s a comparison I totally get with its riddles and songs dotted throughout (love me a riddle, BTW!), as well as its heavy themes of friendship and Norse/Anglo-Saxon inspirations, but I am not sure it is entirely fair. Almost any fantasy that takes any inspiration from Northern European mythology will have a lot in common with Tolkien’s works and I feel this story is actually just an expression of the author’s passion for Norse mythology and sagas like Beowulf.

Overall, I definitely recommend this to those of you looking for a classical fantasy story filled with charm. On a separate note, how cool is the cover? It’s very reminiscent of old Norse art and even has something of the Bayeux Tapestry about it. Bravo to Helena Rosova for who smashed it out the park as it completely fits with the story told by Joshua Gillingham here.

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