Forged is a great introduction to Oathbound. If you’re already familiar with Bastion Press’s high fantasy campaign setting then Forged will add to its unique flavour and quite possibly let you admire the setting from a new angle.
Lyrien’s world is one without magic and monsters and so it comes as twice the shock when Israfel, one of the seven feathered foul, and queen of Penance, pulls him into her domain. Penance is a cyclopean city in the realm of Penance on the world of the Forge. There’s no need to stress over the details. In the roleplaying game someone, the GM at least, will have had to get to grips with the complexities of the campaign. In this brand new fantasy novel the reader gets to sit back and enjoy the setting without the fuss. As Lyrien discovers the Forge’s quirks and idiosyncrasies and learns to adapt to then so does the reader. There’s no danger of game mechanics clogging the drama or some munchkin player rushing off to evolve his character into a prestige race. The story is the boss here and there’s nothing to stop plot twists twisting at the most dramatic moment.
The Forge is an excellent location for a fantasy novel. Everything in the world is more real. The author, Thomas M Reid, has more than an excuse to write lavishly about the mundane things, he has the mandate to do so. How often do fantasy writers linger on the delights of slave gruel? Not very often, that’s for certain. Let’s offer a caveat here. Forged is far from a cliche busting, genre trailblazer. No. Usual fantasy series rules apply here. Our hero, Lyrien (aka Tempest after a fight in the arena), is a honourable man who is trying to do his best in difficult circumstances. There’s a bit of background here, a bossy father, a lost lover, you know, just enough to angst about in the pre-determined angst paragraphs before big scenes. Despite the angst of a lost lover he’s not quite able to avoid sleeping with sexy half-elf chicks. This then plays into more angst. This leads us nicely to sexy half-elf chicks and my least favourite character. Ezeria is almost the perfect dream; a less than reluctant concubine, smart, brave, full of magical tricks and she’ll sob quietly to herself if the hero doesn’t sleep with her often enough. Urg. I prefer my fantasy without an adolescent prefix. I want my half-elf sex slaves to be more real than that. On the other hand I built up something of a rapport with the good natured and long-suffering dover Gade.
Dover’s are one of the fantasy races introduced by the setting, they’re man sized, bipedal canines. Don’t call them dogs. The plethora of fantasy races is both a strength and a weakness of the world. There are so many different races that I find it can be quite a struggle to keep up with them and always be able to put names to descriptions. This novel will help. As different races come into focus – the dover for example – then they’re built up and fleshed out more. On the other hand it can be quite chaotic at times. Lyrien has to fight a gaggle of guards and it seems that no two guards are of the same race. In many fantasy novels you don’t need to worry about the guards, just read as the hero defeats them all, but this time round I found myself trying to keep track of the one with the bird head. When you’re fighting so weird and wonderful guards then the humpbacked undead horror protecting a treasure aren’t quite the thrill they could be.
The plot is quite simple and effective at setting up the next book. Yes, I’m already waiting for the next book (which must be a good sign). Lyrien is dumped in Penance. This is Israfel’s standard treatment for people she’s interested in. It’s up to Gade to explain, as best he can, that the Queen of the City likes to seed her realm with people she finds all over the universe. The fact that she spoke to Lyrien is unusual, it suggests she has a special interest in him. This doesn’t mean Lyrien enjoys a powerful protector. Israfel drops seeds into her city to see whether they sink or swim. It looks very much as if Lyrien will sink. He’s only just able to escape the maze in time to be captured by slavers. Without spoiling too much I’ll say that he manages to move from frying pan to fire and become embroiled (or should be en-burnt?) in the affairs of a Bloodlord. Bloodlords are powerful individuals able to impose themselves to some extent on whole regions of the city. Interest from a Bloodlord is likely to mean blood and politics in equal measure. This is good for the reader, bad for our heroes. The next book is set to go with a specific goal. There’s something to do. This isn’t the case in Forged. Unless you’re willing to count Lyrien’s desire to get home, the plot is very much in the here and now interested in how the characters survive the day with little attention on what needs to be done tomorrow. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a style of storytelling that’ll fit somewhere in your ranks of preferred styles.
This live by today and worry about tomorrow later attitude circles back around to Forged’s success as showcase of Outbound. The book is a tour de force of the Forge. Whether the initial roaming of the book, the tour, succumbs to the momentum of building drama builds quickly enough for you or not, it can’t be said that the momentum stalls or hangs together awkwardly. The plot grows with a natural ease even when there’s the suspicion of scripted angst. The characters’ actions tend to make sense. The scenes chain together gracefully enough and there’s no sign of the dread deus ex machina. This isn’t a dungeon crawl either; the structure of the plot is more complicated than that. Just. Lyrien hasn’t come to the Forge to fight in a world where his sense of balance and pain are stronger. He’s come to fight, to love, to make friends, to be betrayed, to find enemies, to make mistakes and to learn by them.
In short, there’s enough in the book to appeal to most fantasy fans. The promise is of a great fantasy series. The fact that there’s the roleplaying world behind all of this is a bonus.