Before I started Graduate school way back in the late ‘aughts I read a little book called Writ in Blood by James A. Moore. Set in the small town of Serenity Falls, Writ in Blood was a fantastic little book that marked the beginning of a trilogy detailing the horrific past and present of a small town long past its heyday. Sadly by the time I was done with graduate school the Serenity Falls series was out of print. Moore recently entered the fantasy scene with Seven Forges published by the fine folks over at Angry Robot. The novel opens with the mercenary caption Merros Dulver on an expedition into the dangerous Blasted Lands there to investigate the enigmatic Seven Forges; a range of strange mountains. Sent by the Emperor’s Sorcerous advisor, Desh Krohan, Merros is startled to discover that the Blasted Lands and the Seven Forges themselves are not as uninhabited as previously thought.
Billed by some as epic fantasy there is something very old school swords and sorcery about Seven Forges. Moore seems to be working with a milieu less reminiscent of J R. R. Tolkien, George R. R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan but rather feels like something closer to the works of Robert Howard, C. L. Moore, Michael Moorcock and Frtiz Lieber. Maybe it’s for this reason, and I might be completely off base here, that I suspect that Seven Forges is in truth a novel of science fantasy. The Blasted Lands, created by some great cataclysm; a ruined city full of strange beasts; the Seven Forges themselves and some details about the S’aba Taalor learned over the course of the novel lead me to believe that we are dealing with a setting that is taking place somewhere in the far future.
The early parts of Seven Forges deal with Merros’ expedition and the discovery of the S’aba Taalor. From there, as the expedition is introduced to the people who live in and beyond the Blasted Lands, the novel deals with the repercussions of that discovery. The empire of Fellein begins to treat with this strange new people whose odd culture seems primarily founded a zealous dedication to survival and the martial arts filtered through a religion lead by the gods represented by the Seven Forges themselves. There is a constant sense that the people of the Fellein Empire are off balance and that hidden currents and knowledge held by the S’aba Taalor are driving events forward. This sets up a nice undercurrent of tension leaving readers constantly wondering about the motivations of this strange people.
Seven Forges struggles somewhat with characterization. The novel sets up an immediate connection with Merros Dulver and Moore does a wonderful job in creating a complicated character whose sense of personal honor and duty contrasts with his desire for wealth and notoriety. Other characterizations are less assured. Andover, a blacksmith’s apprentice who is drawn into events due to his crush on Desh Krohan’s apprentice, fills a more traditional fantasy role reminiscent of the farm boy hero and doesn’t move to far past that trope. Desh Krohan is another interesting case; an ancient sorcerer who has shepherded the Fellein Empire across generations is at times slightly comical as he plays upon his reputation for effect. However, Desh’s motivations are never quite clear. There a handful of the S’abor Taalor whose perspective readers are treated to however, Moore has to walk a fine line between illustrating their culture and keeping their motivations somewhat hidden. The result being that I never felt I understood what exactly the S’abor Taalor were trying to accomplish.
Seven Forges is a fast, entertaining read with a rich setting. Moore adeptly handles scenic descriptions, particular during the novel’s opening chapters, and shows a real knack for describing frenetic scenes of battle and violence. Moore is adept at conveying tone both through description and action; a skill that I’d like to attribute to his experience as a horror writer. The closing chapters of Seven Forges really ramp up the action but offer surprisingly little resolution of the many mysteries introduced over the course of the novel. While the ending isn’t exactly a cliffhanger it does leave me eager to start the next book in the series The Blasted Lands.