December 1, 2009

Rabid Reads: "A Darkness Forged in Fire" by Chris Evans

Title: A Darkness Forged in Fire (Book One of the Iron Elves series)
Author: Chris Evans
Publisher: Pocket Books (2008)
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 615
ISBN 978-1-4165-7052-7

Well, I think this book counts as my first official foray into the world of swords and sorcery style fantasy novels. And I must be honest that this book, while not terrible (pretty good, actually), did not win me over enough to turn me into a fan of the genre. I'm a bit stubborn, though.

Kenowa Swift Dragon is an elf warrior of sorts, and an exile from Her Majesty's Imperial army and his now disbanded Iron Elves, once the fiercest and most revered squad of soldiers anywhere. He got the heave-ho after killing their Viceroy, a dastardly individual who had secretly betrayed his people to the Shadow Monarch, this universe's Mordor, to the uninitiated among us--remember, the LOTR movies are my only frame of reference for this type of story. While I didn't go crazy for this novel, I liked Kenowa because he was an elf with a bad attitude, like Bruce Willis with Spock ears.

So, while he's off in the woods with his pet bengar, Jir--think Lassie crossbred with a chainsaw--the fabled Red Star has fallen to the earth, regarded as a long lost magic and unlimited power to whomever possesses it. Yup, it's a quest story.

The Shadow Monarch wants it, the new Viceroy wants it, an ambitious prince does too. Basically anyone with a greedy disposition. As for Kenowa, he is more interested in the reinstatement of the Iron Elves and a shot at redemption, which he's given by being enlisted back into Her Majesty's Imperial Army to help lead a new band of Iron Elves. The trouble for Kenowa is that it's not his battle-tested and legendary band of brothers, but the Bad News Bears version, a rag-tag gaggle of misfits from every corner of Her Majesty's Empire ... and Kenowa is second-in-command behind a prince with little skill or charisma.

After winning the sequel to this book, The Light of Burning Shadows, through a giveaway by Fantasy Book Critic--I thought the pitch summary and review were intriguing enough to warrant throwing my name in the hat--I figured I had better track down the first book and get caught up when I won. I'm not sure how hinged the second book is with the first, if a person could jump on the bandwagon with the second book and not feel lost, but I gotta say I'm a little less excited to read Burning Shadows now.

I liked A Darkness Forged fine, but I think I should have read the fine print when entering the swords and sorcery stuff. It's not my cup of tea at the best of times, and it took a monumental trilogy of films by Peter Jackson to get me to even give the genre the time of day. I think more well-read fantasy readers will get sucked into Chris Evans' work thanks to the camaraderie and conflict exhibited by the characters he's created. As a reader who lacks the enthusiasm to immerse myself fully in this kind of fiction, I was walking uphill through much of the novel.

I was tepid towards the budding relationship between Kenowa and Visyna (the strong female lead that attracts Kenowa and repels him at the same time), on a couple of occasions some characters seemed to have an unusual omniscient awareness of things in the story they had no business knowing, and some of the elven ways seemed odd and vague (the whole history behind Wolf Oaks had me lost, and figuring out the class structure of each character's race). The thing I surprised myself by enjoying most was the relationships shaped by the new Iron Elves, specifically Alwyn and Yimt.

With over six hundred pages, there's a lot to chew on for fantasy fans--I guess they're used to the lengthier pieces of fiction--but I'm the kind of bloke who reads something this long and ends up skimming over bits and thinking sizable chunks could have been edited out.

Fantasy fans, feel free to enjoy this book and series. Newcomers to the genre, you'll likely find a lot to like in terms of both plot and character, but be prepared for speed bumps. Naysayers to the genre, I doubt the wheel has been reinvented with this series, so enter at your own risk.


  1. Thanks for the review. I was drawn into the cover for this book, but I think it might be a little too high fantasy for me.

  2. Yeah...high fantasy is an acquired taste. And I think you really have to start with the absolute classics getting your feet wet, and then move on to the rest. Even though I'm a fantasy geek, I'll still find myself reading one now and then that I can't get into, so it's not like the whole genre is made of gold. Some books work, and others don't. And they'll be great for some people and not for others. Good luck with the next one!

  3. Suzie - I think if you've read the classics, like Celia mentions, you will be more apt to get sucked into the story. I think it comes down to personal preference.

    Celia - Gah, I really have to read the Tolkien stuff one of these days. It's somewhat mandatory among fantasy fanatics, isn't it?