I was delighted to get this Gail Z. Martin book as I had never read anything by Martin prior to this. This book, Ice Forged, appears to be the first in a new series by Martin.
The book starts with a young nobleman, Blaine McFadden, who kills his abusive father. Such an act would normally have him executed, but the King of Donderath, knowing of the elder McFadden’s ways, takes pity on Blaine and banishes him to the penal colony, Edgeland. Such banishment is akin to death as life in the far-away land of snow and ice is rough. Blaine, however, is that type of person who can overcome any obstacle. After changing his name to “Mick” to avoid any problems with his previous stature, Blaine/Mick builds a quality life for himself and for many of the others who had been banished to the land.
When supply ships from Donderath stopped coming to Edgeland, Blaine/Mick and others fear the worst for their former homeland and set out to restore the balance of nature/power in Donderath, supposing that whatever befell Donderath could happen elsewhere as well.
What has happened, of course, is war. A rival king, King of Meroven, has unleashed the full power of his mages, an act so daring and desperate that no other king has ever done this before. One result of the war is the loss of every-day magic … that simple, earth-borne magic that everyone can tap in to to help crops grow or to help reduce fever quicker, etc. And with the loss of this magic, everyone suffers. Blaine/Mick and his associates return to Donderath to join forces with some of Blaine/Mick’s old comrades, to restore order.
The book is one of the more interesting fantasy concepts that I’ve read. While there is clearly a sword and sorcery element here, it never felt ‘typical.’ I’ve read so many books that are nothing more than rehashes of Robert E. Howard or J.R.R. Tolkien and the like. Martin’s world felt very different … a step up in the history of the modern world. (Think that transitory period between the Iron Age and the Roman Age, as opposed to the Bronze Age.) These aren’t intelligent savages hacking and slashing their way through the world, these are civilized men and women in a world of war, agriculture, and magic.
Like most epic/quest books, we mostly follow the exploits of one particular individual. Here it is Blaine “Mick” McFadden. While Blaine is a decent, strong character, I have a little problem with how easily everything seems to come to Blaine. He never really seems to have to struggle for anything. Starting right off with his killing of his father, he should have been sentenced to death and had to fight for his life (literally), but instead he’s banished. He should have to fight for his life in the savage wasteland of Edgeland, and perhaps he does, but we never see it. Instead we return to him to find that he’s living somewhat luxuriously with a ranch/plantation, and a solid crew of friends/followers. Upon his return to Donderath, after a decade or so away, he walks in to his old home and mostly picks up right where he left off, able to secure good food, wealth, weapons, and friends. When he needs some powerful, magical allies, they come to him. For a character-driven novel, the characters do not have the hurdles or struggles that they need to be truly compelling.
I’ve often found that a book of more than 400 pages (this is nearly 600) too often tends to fail to sustain a high drive and keep my interest. This book was no exception. If one is going to write something this epic, keeping me turning the pages everyday is challenging. I occasionally stopped caring about what Blaine was going to do next and would put the book down for a day or two at a time. There were moments that were completely compelling, but nearly as many that I just wanted to rush through.
One aspect that I’m still not quite sure how I feel about … vampires. Yes, vampires. There are vampires in this book.
I like vampires as characters. But I’m not sure I like them appearing, out of the mist (so to speak), two-thirds of the way through a fantasy/mystery/quest epic. As a potentially game-changing character, I felt it was a rather cheap shot. A dark deus-ex-machina. And yet…well…it’s a fantasy world with vampires who aren’t the main focus of the book. That’s kind of cool. But…well…introducing this power this late in the game? Yeah…conflicting emotions.
Despite these criticisms, I am impressed with the world-building. It’s a rather unique fantasy world, and that is harder and harder to accomplish. The characters are well-defined, even if their challenges and obstacles are not. I look forward to the next book, and possibly even reading some of Martin’s other works as time permits.
Looking for a good book? Ice Forged is an epic fantasy with remarkable world-building and well-created characters that need to be challenged a bit more and asked to do more on their own.
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author: Gail Z. Martin
series: Ascendant Kingdoms #1
paperback, 592 pages