Seven Forges by James A Moore
Just finished reading Seven Forges by James A Moore. I really enjoyed this. It starts out by totally grabbing your attention and pretty much doesn’t relent for the rest of the novel.
At the start of the story Captain Merros Dulver is leading a party of people on an expedition to map the Seven Forges – a large, previously unexplored mountain range. The country they cross is barren and the weather is fierce and at the start of the story the soldiers are preparing to try and repel an attack from some of the massive and savage creatures that hunt in this part of the country.
The Empire of Fellein controls most of the land. The Seven Forges lie on the fringes and have remained un-passable due to their wild and desolate nature. They are the legacy, presumably, of some sort of Cataclysmic event which left the land uninhabitable for many many years and are now plagued by furious storms, freezing temperatures and conditions so harsh that nobody lives there. Well, that was the previously held suspicion. As it turns out the Seven Forges are home to a race of people not previously encountered and following a chance meeting with Merros these people accompany him back to try and form a pact with the Emperor.
Of course, things can never be quite as simple, or as friendly as first suspected can they? This new race of people, the Sa’ba Taalor worship the Gods of War. They are a statuesque race, trained in the art of fighting and warfare as soon as they are capable of holding a sword they’re trained in it’s use. They are largely unforgiving as a race, their every action is dictated by the gods (seven, one for each Forge) that they worship and it could be that they intend more than to form a peaceful treaty.
They enter the Empire where the army have become complacent and lethargic with nothing to keep them occupied or sharp and the Court are more concerned with a few trivial rivalries and what colours of silk should be worn this week than protecting their realm. The contrast in the two is quite acute. We have a small band of highly trained, efficient warriors, completely fearless and who actually enjoy conflict compared to a large sprawling, almost ramshackle, disorganised and undisciplined army. It feels a little bit like inviting a lion into the hen house for a nice cup of tea! Hey, lions could drink tea – if they wanted!
There are a number of threads or stories that we follow. Captain Dulver, or Merros. His arrival was anticipated by the Sa’ba Taalor although the reason behind that is still a mystery - to me at least. Merros is no longer a soldier and finds a living being hired as a mercenary. He is of course accompanied by his trusty friend and sidekick Wollis. I actually liked this pair. They probably don’t break the fantasy mould in any way but they’re easy to read about and quite amusing in parts. Upon their return to the empire the two are split. Merros accompanies a small company of the Sa’ba Taalor to an outlying village where trouble is brewing on one of the islands off its coast. Tales seem to be spinning out of control there and nobody really seems to know what is truly taking place.
We also have the story of a young boy called Andover who after being viciously punished by the town’s Watch is left with terrible injuries. His plight comes to the attention of the visitors who bestow upon him a most unusual and unconventional gift. Andover is besotted with a young girl who serves as apprentice to the Wizard advisor. The two of them will eventually be asked to return to the Seven Forges on behalf of the empire.
And, of course, we have the everyday goings on at the palace – where things have been turned a bit upside down with the arrival of these new people. I’ve probably made that sound a good deal more pedestrian than it really is. There’s plenty of action here, particularly considering the length of the novel and perhaps the world building could have been a little stronger although personally I felt I had a good feeling for the general layout and I respect that the author was trying to keep a sense of mystery about this strange new world and it’s inhabitants.
In terms of characters, like I said, I quite liked Merros and Wollis. Andover, I’m not sure about at this point. I think he definitely suffers some weaknesses in character and that could be why the Sa’ba Taalor are so interested in him – perhaps they think he will be easily manipulated. Desh the Wizard is something of an enigma. Apparently hundreds of years old and surrounded by all manner of stories about his past, none of which can be easily confirmed or denied, everybody fears him, even the Emperor. He is assisted by three sisters – again, not too much information or back story on these three at the moment but again, maybe that will be examined in future stories. And we have the Sa’ba Taalor, Drask and Tusk being the central characters. All of them are larger than life. They have no qualms about taking the course of action they think best in any situation. They are basically, confident, self assured fighting machines. Strangely – all of them cover their faces with cloth masks which they never remove – obviously we’ll find out why that is at some point (perhaps they have smelly breath!! or maybe they have rows and rows of sharp pointy demon teeth or long lizardy tongues!)
On the whole I thought this was an enjoyable and entertaining read. I did have a couple of minor criticisms, for example, the three glamorous assistants – one blond, one auburn one dark haired – why was that really necessary. And, what I mean by that is why do they all have to be at one end of the spectrum in terms of hair colour and why do they all have to be beautiful – other than as some kind of distraction for Merros! Okay, just to be clear here, I don’t have anything against beautiful people it just seems a bit too much that he’s surrounded by these gorgeous women who are also very magical – reads more like a wish list Also, at the start of the story, and I’m not going to give too much away here, but we end up with Merros and his company following Drask – now what I can’t understand is that in later comments Drask says he was looking for Merros – so why was he riding away from the band of travellers? I’m pretty sure I’ve missed something fundamental there so if anyone want’s to pounce all over this with an explanation then be my guest.
Other than my couple of niggles I thought this was really intriguing, it’s a fast paced story and fairly short for a novel of this type of scope. I suppose a little more detail wouldn’t have gone amiss although to be frank I didn’t feel that the story suffered as a result. I will definitely pick up the next novel to see what happens in this world. The Sa’ba Taalor are very interesting and I’m keen to see how the other characters develop. Actually I’m gagging to know what is under these mysterious face cloths – perhaps it will just be normal everyday faces – that would be a bit of a giggle wouldn’t it! (Note to author: I could have done without the monumental cliffhanger – just saying).
I received a copy of this from NetGalley in response for a honest review. The above is my own opinion. Also, what about Angry Robots. So many good books coming out of their house at the moment!