Overshadowed by the peaks of seven mountains called the Seven Forges, the Blasted Lands extend from the edge of the known Empire into the unknown; to the mountains, themselves, and beyond. No one knows what’s on the other side because, in living memory, no one has returned from the many expeditions dispatched across the barren wasteland.
Mercenary captain, Merros Dulver, plans to be the first. Charged by a sorcerer to map the Seven Forges, Merros leads his company, which includes three sisters who are the eyes, ears and voice of the sorcerer, across terrain rendered inhospitable by a long ago cataclysm. Great beasts of legend stir, threatening to end their two month journey, and a rider appears to save them. After communicating the fact he has apparently been waiting for Merros, he leads the company through the mountains and into the valley beyond.
The meeting of the two disparate races is one of coincidence and triumph, and seems to be an opportunity for two very different kingdoms to form an alliance. The cover of Seven Forges is tagged with the line “War is Coming”, however. So the reader knows in advance that something is going to go wrong, and it does. When the axe does fall, it hits the expected mark. But by the time the reader reaches that bloodied edge, expectations are skewed.
Mine were, anyway.
I may have been distracted by the other threads of story as Seven Forges quickly diverges into several points of view. We visit with the sorcerer, the emperor, the emperor’s cousin, and several of the Sa’ba Taalor, the principle of whom seems to be Drask Silverhand, the rider who met Merros in the Blasted Lands. We also meet and a young man named Andover. Merros’ second, Wollis, gets a look in, too, and I’m sure there are a couple of others. Some we collude with for only a small part of a chapter. The chop and change can be distracting, even if it does provide the reader with an expanded view of the slowly twisting plot. I actually got confused as characters and kingdoms suddenly winked into existence and conflicts not mentioned earlier vied for importance. Sometimes I wasn’t even sure whose head we were in, unless it was one of the more compelling points of view.
I also couldn’t tell whose story, exactly, we were meant to follow. The book begins with Merros and doggedly follows his journey. Drask Silver Hand is pictured on the cover. Andover Lashkin’s tale is fascinating and obviously a part of the whole, but frustratingly truncated. Half his experience in the latter half of the book is assumed rather than written out.
Honestly, it seemed as if the author wasn’t sure which story to tell, either, which brings me to the length of the book and the ending. Seven Forges is not a standalone novel. It’s obviously the first volume of something. To that end, none of the plot threads find a satisfying conclusion, which leaves the reader unfulfilled. It’s not a long book and it reads extremely quickly. With so many intersecting plot threads, however, the book could be longer. Perhaps then some of the relationships could be better explained and therefore carry more meaning.
All of that being said, I did enjoy the story. Several elements were well done. I read the last hundred pages in about an hour. But with so much left unsaid and the abruptness of the ending, the book felt half finished. James A. Moore is the author of over twenty novels, many of which are critically acclaimed. He got his start writing for Marvel comics and White Wolf Games. Maybe he is used to delivering tales of an episodic nature.
Seven Forges is published by Angry Robot. I do admire Angry Robot’s commitment to publishing oddball stories and plot lines, characters that are just shy of expected, and worlds that feel new and unexplored. The world of Seven Forges has a familiar feel to it, but it’s also different. The Sa’tha Taalor are very different, and Moore is definitely setting the stage for something epic. With a laudable list of previous novels printed inside the cover, I will assume he is up to the challenge of doing the story justice.
Final note: The cover art for this book is fantastic. I love it. In fact, it played a great part in inspiring me to pick up the ARC for review. The painting is done by the talented Alejandro Colucci, who has an epic portfolio of book covers.
Written for an originally published at SF Crowsnest.