A Darkness Forged in Fire review

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Darkness Forged in Fire is the first fantasy novel by author Chris Evans. The second opus of The Iron Elves series is named The Light of Burning Shadows and was released in July 2009 (ADFiF in July 2008). Mr. Evans is a military historian (with an interest mostly in the First World War) and it shows abundantly in his writing.

Konowa Swiftdragon was banished. The former commander of the Iron Elves is in exile after killing a malevolent elvish viceroy, hireling to the Shadow Monarch, who was persecuting the elfkynan people. When the Red Star falls back from the sky to return to the land, the elfkynan witch Visyna seeks back Konowa to help the Prince of the Calahrian empire reform the Iron Elves. The new contingent, composed of misfits and rookies, among them the frail Alwyn and his friend the dwarf Yimt, tries to reach Luuguth Jor and the star before the minions of the Shadow Monarch.

A Darkness Forged in Fire is a trek. A walk through the dangerous countryside by a bunch of soldiers who encounters unique monsters along the way. I think Evans wanted to show us the life of soldiers on the road and how camaraderie is built. In this, we are far away from the Malazans (and the Black Company from what I gather) but the book has its moments, taking its originality in the mix of musket (hence the Iron Elves), wooden bows, original beasties and medieval warfare. A howitzer firing of shielded mages? Can be kind of cool (and it is on some occasions), but underneath it all, there's a simple straightforward story and some thin characters.

What I enjoyed the most in this novel is some of the minor players. Konowa is the main hero and principal PoV of the story and I think that he doesn't really lives up to the task. Moreover, his love story is awfully predictable. The secondary characters are way more interesting. Even though he's a bit too much stereotypical as a dwarf, Yimt is really entertaining. His combination with Alwyn the frail rookie who wears spectacles adds much needed humor and "emotion" to the serious story. Yimt will remain memorable with statements as : "my aunt hairy chest".

About the other protagonists, there's one more that steal the show, Rallie. She's a cigar smoking Imperial Weekly Herald scribe with a pelican as a pet, some witty remarks, hidden magical talents and a knack for understanding people. The old lady even managed to remake the old saying from Lord Lytton's Richelieu play : "The quill is mightier than the musket!".

Storywise, we face a pure evil monarch without a tangible agenda, two of her henchman that are easily coerced into becoming bad guys, a mythical fallen star, "naturally" good elves and some dubious marked ones. These last are marked by the Shadow Monarch, but it doesn't add much to their struggle through life. In this, the novel is a bit of a disappointment. There's not much worldbuilding aside from the military setting but there's a promise of more in the future of the series. By the way, the magic system is something you have to assume.

The writing was correct. Nothing felt wrong and nothing is fabulous. Although there's a scene where someone who is drowning is saved by a soldier jumping on his chest.... What the hell??? Putting all of this together, I'm not sure I'll read the second book soon.

Since I listened to the audiobook, a word about the narration. I listened to about half the Wheel of Time books and read the rest of them. Michael Kramer was the narrator, and I have to say that it's one of my favorites. Kudos again for this piece of work.

Technically, I think the cover art by Mary Austin Speaker (Pocket) serves the book right. The hardcover edition of the novel is 432 pages and the audiobook is 15 hrs and 17 min. You can take a look at the map here.

A Darkness Forged in Fire review score :

Characterization............. 7.5 /10
World building............... 6.5 / 10
Magic system................. 6 / 10
Story.............................. 6 / 10
Writing........................... 7 / 10

Overall (not an average) 6.5 / 10

Chris Evans page


Yagiz [Between Two Books] said...

I've wanted to read this book and I've come very close a few times. It's a shame every time something else came up and I couldn't pick it up. I liked the blurb and I must admit I probably fell for the "iron elves" name.

Thanks for the review. It'll probably make this book resurface for me.

Phil said...

It was one of those for me too.

I'll wait for your review :)

Melissa (My World...in words and pages) said...

I read this one. It's been a while though. I remember thinking it wasn't bad, but there were times I got a little confused. I want to pick up the second book and see where the story goes. I do remember liking the characters, good and bad. I did really enjoy the smoking woman, I could be wrong but I think she was some kind of a journalist or recorder for the times. Your review helped bring the story back to my mind. I am going to have to add the second book to my list to get and see if anything new happens. Thank you!

Phil said...

@Melissa : Yes Rallie (the smoking woman) is a kind of journalist. She's a chronicler and writes propaganda for the empire.

Keep me updated if you pick up the second book and find it worth the time.

Melissa (My World...in words and pages) said...

With the stack of books I have here, it probably wont be for a little while. But I will definitely let you know when I get to it.

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