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Book Review: A Darkness Forged in Fire by Chris Evans

* Genre: High Fantasy, Military Fantasy
* ISBN: 1416570519
* ISBN-13: 9781416570516
* Format: Hardcover, 464pp
* Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
* Pub. Date: July 08, 2008

We do not fear the flame, though it burns us,
We do not fear the fire, though it consumes us,
And we do not fear its light,
Though it reveals the darkness of our souls,
For therein lies our power.
— Blood Oath of the Iron Elves

Combining the technology of the American Revolution, the story of an adventure from the days of British Colonialism, and the setting of a fantasy world, A Darkness Forged in Fire is a welcome and unique addition to the fantasy genre. Written by Chris Evans, this novel is an action-packed adventure tale that has been likened to the works of Bernard Cornwell and J.R.R. Tolkien.

A bit of military fantasy, A Darkness Forged in Fire relates the story of Konowa Swift Dragon, formerly commander of the Iron Elves. Konowa lost his commission and the Iron Elves were disbanded due to his assassination of the Viceroy of Elfkynan, a far flung province in a vast empire. But Konowa’s unique skills are needed again, and he is recalled to lead a newly formed Iron Elves. But the new Iron Elves are not quite what he expects, and his new commander just happens to be the Prince of the Empire himself. Things quickly get interesting for Konowa, especially after meeting Visyna Tekoy, a beautiful elfkynan woman. (Elfkynans are more like humans than elves, having been misnamed after their discovery, much like American Indians were by Columbus.)

Konowa, Visyna, and the Prince must take the Iron Elves and seek out a buried treasure, the Eastern Star, said to have powerful magic. Meanwhile, and ancient elvish evil is stirring, and the Shadow Monarch will do everything in her power to be the first to obtain the Star. Other conflicts come from the talk of rebellion from the elfkynan, and Konowa’s own internal conflict over being an elf with no talent for communing with nature.

Evans story is exciting. I found myself unable to put it down, reading late into the night. It combines the traditional quest story with military fantasy. Although the ultimate goal of the Iron Elves is the gaining of the Star, Evan’s tale is as much about the soldiers and leaders of the Iron Elves light infantry regiment as it is about the quest. Whereas in most quest novels, there is a small group of adventurers, we have here a large group of over three hundred souls seeking an item, and the dynamics of that work entirely differently. The story puts me very much in mind of the works of David Eddings, but with a military twist. Like Eddings, Evans manages to weave humor into his story, lightening the mood of his tale at just the right moments, but still maintains the thrill of the quest and the success against many dangers that Eddings portrays, especially in his Mallorean series.

Konowa’s character is both noble and sympathetic. His bungling attempts at romancing Visyna are rather funny, as are her attempts to do the same. Additionally their opposing views on nature make for some rather heated and ridiculous arguments. The admixture of lighthearted banter and creeping danger allow the rising action of the story to bring the reader both high and low, to smile and frown, such that when the climax arrives, the reader will be staring at the book with extreme intensity, compelled to know what comes next.

Konowa’s noblity comes through in the way he treats his soldiers, and also in the way he manages to make the best of a bad situation. Rejected due to a perceived taint in him by his elven family, he has served loyally an empire where elves are a rarity, preferring to keep to themselves and commune with nature. Konowa is the opposite, preferring iron and steel to trees and moss. Yet he doesn’t let his differences get him down, although he does belittle the things he dislikes. This sets up a conflict the Evans uses to full advantage to create humor and wrestle with the need for environmentalism balanced against the need for military force and the preservation of people over trees and animals.

Evans is a fairly new voice in fantasy fiction, and as a result makes a few mistakes in his writing. He has a whole subplot concerning the second Viceroy who takes the place of the one Konowa killed, that seems rather unrelated to the rest of the story, although hit is possible the second Viceroy make an appearance in a sequel. Still, it seems as if it could have been skipped entirely and now harm would have come to the primary narrative. The sequel will out. I suppose. Evans also wanders a bit at the beginning of his tale, not really sure where he wants the story to go, although after a few chapters things become clearer and Evans directs his plot more carefully. There are also a lot of military terms that readers may be unfamiliar with, and my hope is that the publishers will include a short glossary in the back to help the unwary reader. This may happen, as my copy was an ARC, and so not yet quite complete. Most readers of fantasy are not going to want to look up what a shako is, as I had to do. (It’s a type of military hat from the 1800s.)

Fans of David Eddings and Glen Cook should find A Darkness Forged in Fire to their liking. It has military elements, humor, and a high fantasy quest style story. The ending was quite a surprise, not how I expected the story would end at all, and left me craving more. Although the majority of Evan’s elves are of the standard trope, Konowa is not, and that juxtaposition adds flavor to the tale. There are many surprise twists and turns. I highly recommend A Darkness Forged in Fire by Chris Evans to all adventure fantasy fans, military novels fans, and anyone who enjoys unique fantasy settings with unusual characters. I couldn’t put it down, so I’m looking forward to an entire day of pleasurable reading when the sequel comes out.