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A Darkness Forged in Fire
Chris Evans
Pocket Books, 419 pages

A Darkness Forged in Fire
Chris Evans
Chris Evans was born in Canada and by law began playing hockey at the age of three. He now lives in New York City where he enjoys running in Central Park, ordering the #1 at the Gracie Mews for breakfast, and apparently retains some of his Canadian accent though he can't hear it. He's a historian as well as an editor of military history and current affairs books including the highly successful Stackpole Military History Series.

Chris Evans Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Tammy Moore

Konowa Swift Dragon had good reason to kill the Calahrian Viceroy he was meant to protect. The man was a brute, a traitor and most likely even worse than that. He still ended up banished to the Elfkyna forest and the Iron Elves regiment he led was demanded. Alone among the unresponsive trees with only his bengar Jir for company Konowa thinks that things can't get much worse.

He's wrong. For She is stirring, sending out her monsters and her poisonous, hungry trees, and the Red Star has fallen. If her plans come to fruition then things will become unfathomably worse for him, for the Empire, for the whole world.

Konowa is summoned back to the Empire's service by the rebellious elfkynan aristocrat Visyna Tokoy and ordered to find the Red Star before the Shadow Monarch does. The Iron Elves are recommissioned as well, but these are not the doughty, near-legendary elven soldiers that Konowa used to command. Instead they are a band of "louts, thieves, ruffians and wastrels" drawn from the dregs of the army. Still they are Iron Elves now and Konowa is determined to make them honour the name. He'll hone them into the best soldiers in the army, because otherwise every last one of them will die.

Accompanied by the spoilt, arrogant Prince Tykkin, an enigmatic journalist who knows more than she ever plans to write and even the beautiful Visyna the Iron Elves set out to Luuguth Jor. Where the Shadow Monarch and what She has left of the murdered Viceroy wait for them. For the Shadow Monarch knows that they are moving against Her, She has more than one servant in Elyfkyna and Her finger has always been laid on Konowa's fate.

A Darkness Forged in Fire is a polished and assured debut novel from author Chris Evans and the first in a series that has the promise to become one of the staples of the genre. Chris Evans has created a fantasy epic that has no problem in moving between the machinations of politicians and the rough humour of the army grunts. The characters and their motivations are complex, the scale of events is epic and the influence those events have on the characters is brutally personal. It reminded me irresistibly of Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Cycle novels. Primarily, the combination of the epic scale of the world and the threat with the more limited world and motivations of the characters. No-one sets out to take on an Epic Quest to save the world, they are forced into it by events beyond their control and their own slightly shop-soiled morality. The heroes in A Darkness Forged in Fire don't wear glittering armour or claim to be righteous. Konowa is grumpy and ill-tempered, but the Iron Elves are his men now and he'll do his best for them. Yimt, one of my favourite characters, is a corrupt, rock-chewing dwarf with a jaundiced view of both the military and the world, but he'll stand and die for his fellow soldiers.

If A Darkness Forged in Fire has one major weakness, it's that it doesn't stand out as being as original and interesting as it is. When I picked it up to read, I expected a fairly standard fantasy quest with elves and an evil sorceress, and I got that. However, there was also a very grittily realistic military campaign, tree-loving elves that are closer to eco-warriors than their traditional fantasy counterparts and a villain who is masterfully frightening and alien. It's hard to make a genuinely fascinating and sympathetic villain who is evil, yet I am as eager to find out more about the Shadow Monarch and her past as I to find out about Konowa and his future.

There's a curse too, and a scene where a crusty dwarf meets an elven lady and, in this world, it unfolds quite differently.

A Darkness Forged in Fire is a strong opening book for a new fantasy series and a thrilling and enjoyable read on its own merits.

Copyright © 2009 Tammy Moore

Tammy Moore is a speculative fiction writer based in Belfast. She writes reviews for Verbal Magazine, Crime Scene NI and Green Man Review. Her first book The Even -- written by Tammy Moore and illustrated by Stephanie Law -- is to be published by Morrigan Books September 2008.

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