Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Darkness Forged In Fire: Book One of the Iron Elves, by Chris Evans

This book is best described as a military sci-fi set in a world of epic fantasy. From the very first sentence, you know you are in a world under stress: "Mountains shouldn't scream, but this one did."

I do believe that is the best opening line I've read all year.

The Shadow Monarch has returned to claim what She feels is rightfully Hers, and spreads a burning frost through the forest to find it. Konowa Swift Dragon, the main character, was once an Iron Elf. And apparently, once an Iron Elf, always an Iron Elf. After a one year isolation in the forest he is suddenly thrust back into service and asked/forced to lead the Iron Elves again. Only this time, the group is not quite as Iron-y. Or as Elf-y.

The best supporting characters, in my opinion, were the dwarf, Yimt, and his human sidekick, Alwyn. The latter had joined the military service because he'd thought it would make him a man, and quickly realizes that it is more than he bargained for. With the veteran dwarf at his side, though, he learns how to survive and how to find the courage within himself that he'd previously thought was nonexistent. Also, by the end of the book, he is quite adept at loading a musket, even under not-so-perfect circumstances. If I could point to a single scene in this novel that got the most emotional reaction from me, it was one of Alwyn's point-of-view scenes, in which he had to flog a fellow soldier who out-ranked him. Even thinking about it now gets me misty-eyed, so I'm going to stop there.

Back to Konowa, our lovely MC. His character is really what kept me reading. There is a scene near the beginning where he and his tree-loving father (oh, I forgot to mention, the elves have a special relationship with trees…except for Konowa, that is…he hates them) are having a heart-to-heart chat while making stew. The sarcasm and wit in this exchange had me tearing up with laughter. It was outstanding. But perhaps I am biased. I really am a sucker for good father-son banter. It is a close second to husband-wife banter. Very close.

Konowa's interactions with just about every other character were excellent. The only thing I can find fault with in that area was his relationship (or rather, lack of relationship) with Visyna. It was hinted at, several times, that they had feelings for each other, but nothing ever came of it. In fact, the whole matter was dropped off a proverbial cliff at one point, never to be seen or heard from again. A little frustrating. And the banter between them was more annoying than anything else.

The story was not without it's weirdness, but some of it added humor. Like the drunk pelican. Yeah. I think it might be worth reading the whole book just to see the drunk pelican. Kudos to Mr. Evans for finding a way to weave that into the story.

The only major fault I had with the book as a whole, was that the ending was so obviously just a set up for the next book. It was not satisfying, in my opinion. I am all for trilogies and series and whatnot, but each book still has to stand alone. And if you're going to lead into the next one, do it in an epilogue, not the final six or so chapters of the book when you should be wrapping things up.

Now, that being said, this novel is a strong contender for my pick as Best Read of the Year. The writing was excellent. Easy to read. Tension on every page. And some of the wording and descriptions left me breathless. I loved the military aspects of the story, too, which set it apart from what I typically see in fantasy.

Highly recommended. Book Two is available now, and Book Three will be released in 2010. Both are on my list of future reads. (For more about Chris Evans, click here.)

~Lydia Sharp


Joe Sharp said...

I know you've never reacted to a book like this one. You kept calling me in from the living room to read me a snippet here and there.

Pulling your husband away from Madden is a glowing endorsement if I ever heard one.

Still wondering why you returned it before I was able to read it, though.

Lydia Sharp said...

Library books have due dates. Sorry.