My thoughts on Seven Forges, an epic fantasy by James A Moore, from Angry Robot Books.
The premise is all right: a descendant polity of an old empire exploring the blasted wasteland left by that prior empire’s fall. An expedition into that wasteland finds the unexpected–a culture of warriors living in, from their reports, a hitherto unknown lush valley in the midst of the wasteland. Their interactions are the hub on which the novel spins.
There are a couple of good ideas here. The clash of cultures, first contact, misunderstanding each other, the interactions between the martial Sa’ba Taalor and the softer, more human Fellein feel authentic. Captain Merros Dulver as leader of the Fellein expedition gets far and away the best and most characterization in the novel. I also liked Desh Krohan, the foremost sorcerer in the Empire. I also liked the setting idea of a polity trying to reclaim the glory of a lost and destroyed empire it now (partially) occupies.
However, a fair number of things made this a reading experience that didn’t work for me. Geography seems awfully fluid if not outright unclear. The review copy I had has no map and given that important plot points hinge on geography and the relationship between where things are and the implications of those physical relationships, that simply is inexcusable. Too, some events happen, especially a large event at the end, that are fired Chekov’s Guns that do not appear to have been put on the mantel piece in the first place. I am not a fan of all of the stylistic flourishes. While the sword and sorcery feel in an epic fantasy is certainly different and welcome, I am not certain that combining that with touches of third person omniscient, especially as the closeout of chapters, was entirely effective for me.
Epic Fantasy can be ponderous especially in the opening pages, and even starting the novel with a physical conflict does not rescue this novel from that. Nor does some stylistic tricks with time and what the novel focuses on, although they do help. It takes a fair mile for this novel to get any real narrative momentum. And even then, there is a lot of setup and maneuvering that only really starts to get going in the denouement. Clearly the first volume in a series, there is nothing like a complete story in any of the storylines in Seven Forges. The novel simply stops.
In the end, Seven Forges, although being a book I am clearly the target audience for, didn’t capture my heart and mind like I hoped it would.