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Saturday, October 3, 2020

A Wizard's Forge by AM Justice review




AUTHOR INFORMATION: Amanda is a Brooklyn-based author, lover of science and wit, sporadic scuba diver, and once and future tango dancer. Her characters live only in her head, but they’re real, and she puts them through hell.

FORMAT: Self-published on September 19, 2016, A Wizard's Forge is 440 pages long. It's the first book in The Woern Saga (the second book, A Wizard's Sacrifice has just been published). It's available through Amazon as an ebook, paperback, and audiobook. Cover design by Steven Meyer - Rassow. 

OVERVIEW: A Wizard's Forge hooked me with an attractive cover and intriguing synopsis. It's not a classic fantasy as the story happens in the future on a planet far from Earth. The advanced technology of ancestors is long gone, and their descendants fight a decades-long war. Shy scholar Victoria knows nothing of this conflict until pirates kidnap and sell her as a sexual slave to the sadistic tyrant - Lornk Korng

Lornk subjects her to months of psychological torture and abuse. When she manages to escape, Vic joins the army (I totally oversimplify things) that fights her former master. The prey becomes the predator, but in this case, the newborn predator is still deeply traumatized. 

Vic is a chilling example of a Stockholm syndrome victim. She suffers both the physical abuse of imprisonment and the severe emotional manipulation that locks her in place when Lornk is involved. Vic's coping with the trauma is the essence of the story. It influences her behavior, choices, and relationships. 

There's a lot to like about this story. It touches delicate subjects (sexual slavery and abuse, trauma) and handles them with care. Bad things happen but there's no gratuitous violence or scenes that serve to shock the reader. I appreciate it as way too many contemporary fantasy books try to hide thin plot and weak characterization underneath layers of gore. 

Vic and Ashel are two enticingly complex characters, and their chemistry is obvious from the get-go. Vic is still coping with her trauma, which makes it hard for her to start a healthy relationship. Achel, meanwhile, keeps convincing himself his feelings aren't that serious, and just when he comes to terms with the reality, a tragedy that will change things forever happens. Watching these two come to grips with reality is emotionally satisfying. 

A well-rounded supporting cast includes despicable, but complex villain and traitor, trusty allies, and a princess who is no damsel-in-distress by any means. Every character shapes the story in his or her own unique way, and there are some inventive twists and turns to freshen things up when the storytelling starts to drag. 

The world in which A Wizard's Forge takes place is nicely fleshed out and nuanced, with historical and esoteric details rendered in a skillful, but sometimes too detailed way. Having a race of sentient insectoids (Kragnashians) is another creative touch, and Justice’s description of the species and their role in forging Vic's titular destiny is impressive. 

The world feels medieval although airships are mentioned and the inhabitants of the planet are descendants of marooned space-travelers. Some sci-fi elements, like the Device (a transporter machine that allows an individual to travel instantly between one Device platform and another), are included in the story. There's also a Slotaen - a gel-like substance distilled by Kragnashians from their own blood that has both anesthetic and antibiotic properties. It seems creating a wizard involves infecting a candidate with parasites. Exciting stuff. 

Unfortunately, there’s a lot crowded into this narrative—some of it interesting and some of it unnecessary. This creates an unwieldy read with erratic pacing throughout. Some of the descriptions and internal monologues were too long and tiring to me. There's also an unexpected time-jump that happens in the first half of the book. I can understand it, but it felt jarring. 

Overall, though, it was a satisfying read. A scientific fantasy that feels fresh and manages to handle difficult topics well. It's a slower book than the average fantasy, but it offers both - a unique setting and a tale that focuses on the character's inner dramas. And does all of this well.

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NOTE: Man thanks to Justine, Timy & the Storytellers On Tours for giving us an opportunity to take part in this tour.

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