Earlier this year, I read the first two books in CF Barrington’s Pantheon series. I really enjoyed their mix of historical warfare in a contemporary setting; Vikings fighting the armies of Alexander in the streets of Edinburgh. The idea is somewhat absurd but also very compelling. After the cliffhanger climax of volume two The Blood Islands, wwhat would happen in The gathering storm? Would the series continue to climb to new heights of excitement or would the law of diminishing returns set in as a grand premise grew weary?
I am happy to report that The Gathering Stormtakes us to new levels of excellence.
As this is book 3 of a 4 book series, there are some mild spoilers in the following review. I’ve tried to keep them to a minimum so new readers can read my thoughts and decide for themselves to dive into Volume 1, The wolf’s mile. (TL;DR – You should!)
Why read The gathering storm?
First, there is a suspension of belief necessary to enjoy the Pantheon series. A suspension that is worth it for all the shenanigans of swords and shields that follow one another over these three volumes.
After reading the first two books, I worried that CF Barrington might keep the competition at the center of the books from feeling contrived. It has fighters across the world, drawing inspiration from different periods of history, but for some reason two of them reside in Edinburgh. These two are free every year to ring seven bells against each other against the backdrop of the Scottish capital, but what’s going on in Rome or with the Mongol horde-based warband; when do they fight?
The Gathering Storm partly explains all this. Finally, we get a look at the other Pantheon factions and see how its battle structure works. With some global context, we now know more about the full extent of what there is to play.
Meanwhile, we have to deal with the fallout from Book 2’s cliffhanger. Tyler Maitland finds himself in a new predicament and once again he has come to the attention of powerful forces within the game. launches into another mix of ancient history and modern world that makes the series so enjoyable.
If there is a good trick in The Gathering Storm it’s that CF Barrington manages to give us another origin story without feeling like the previous two books were wasted. We are all geeks here. Who doesn’t love an origin story? Once again there are thrilling nighttime battles on the streets of Edinburgh, this time in the Zoo and Waverley Station. Two great places in their own right, even without the Vikings wielding seaxes running through them!
The book works up to a pitched battle between the Horde of Valhalla and the Lions of Alexander. Tyler’s involvement, again, will be crucial, but how will his intervention fall? In fact, I was shocked by the way this book ended. If you thought the second book was a cliffhanger, this ending has us teetering on the edge of the cliff where cliffhangers go to get scared. In fact, I squealed in dismay when I realized I wasn’t going to get the resolution I was looking for until the next book. (Raise your fists to the sky! Curse yourself Mr Barrington and your clever plot!)
There’s one more book to do in the series that will almost certainly see further inroads from the other factions that participate in the Hall of Fame. I am at the same time desperate to have only one more of these very entertaining books to read while being delighted that there is little chance of The pantheon books overstaying their welcome. Roll on Fields of Bones!
Whether The pantheon were a game?
I introduced this question in my review of The children of the gods and the fighters and I alluded to it in my first review of CF Barrington’s books. It’s impossible to read this book without thinking about tabletop skirmish games, whether The Rampant Lion Where Saga, filled with figures from Gripping Beast or Victrix, there are so many opportunities to paint and play miniature games. Especially since we get a sneaky peek at all the forces taking part in the games. Now we can imagine adding Huns, Mongols and Romans to our tables!
If miniature games aren’t your thing, how about a card game? An obvious contender would be Osprey’s asymmetrical game. Imperium: Classics in which you can play Carthaginian, Celtic, Greek, Macedonian, Persian, Roman, Scythian or Viking forces. It’s a fun game with each faction having different strengths and weaknesses that you must exploit and overcome in order to find your way to victory. A bit like the generals and foot soldiers of the Pantheon!
If you would like a copy of The Gathering Storm you can do it here in the US and here in the UK.
Disclosure: I was sent a copy of The Gathering Storm to write this review.