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Wednesday, February 9, 2022

SPFBO Finalist review: The Forever King (The Scalussen Chronicles # 1) by Ben Galley



Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

AUTHOR INFO: Ben Galley is an author of dark and epic fantasy books who currently hails from Victoria, Canada. Since publishing his debut Emaneska Series, Ben has released a range of novels set in strange, unforgiving worlds, including the award-winning weird western Bloodrush and standalone novel The Heart of Stone. He is also the author of the critically-acclaimed Chasing Graves Trilogy and new Scalussen Chronicles.

When he isn’t killing off hordes of fictional beings, or arguing the finer points of magic and dragons, Ben enjoys exploring the Canadian wilds and sipping Scotch single malts, and will forever and always play a dark elf in The Elder Scrolls. One day he hopes to live in an epic treehouse in the mountains.

Ben can be found on Twitter or vlogging on YouTube @BenGalley, or loitering on Facebook and Instagram @BenGalleyAuthor. Or just go to bengalley.com for all Ben's info.

Publication Date: December 01, 2020 Publisher: BenGalley.com Page Count: 666 (hell yeah!) Cover design: Pen Astridge Original and map illustrations: Ben Galley

JENNIFER

The Forever King, the first in the new series by Ben Galley that takes place decades after his first series the Emaneska. The amount of time that has passed in-world made having to know anything about that series to understand this book, a non-issue for me. I skimmed the notes of past events in the start of the book and pretty much everything is self-explanatory and for the rest, there were informative history excerpts in the beginning of the chapter to fill you in along the way.

Most of the book is shown between three characters:


Mithrid- a girl who lost her home and family, after finding a book of magic on the shores of the village she lives near.
Farden- The Forever King has built a stronghold in the north keeping his people safe from the Arka Empire.
and Malvus- who has been gathering his army ready to squash the last of his enemies and rule completely.

The Forever King had a great beginning with Mithrid and the others scavenging the coastline. It really grabbed me and made me want to come back and see what happens to them.

But as the story progressed, I found myself losing interest and had to refrain from skimming, which was surprising to me since this story is full of everything I love. Plus, the writing is tight, and has a fantasy landscape that would make any of the classics proud.

It’s a huge feeling world with magic that is very present- I loved the making of the Scarred. The “bad guys” feel malevolent and dark, and I do like a story with a villain that feels evil; one that I can really be worried about winning, and how our heroes will fare.

Somewhat spoilery talk ahead-

I struggled to put into words what it was that held me back from this story and more importantly for me- the characters. I hate to just say “I didn’t connect to them” and not give a reason, though, honestly for a review outside of SPFBO, I would have left it at that.

Because this was world-building heavy and a very full book, the characters quickly fell into patterns of predictability for me- grieving girl with big angry chip on her shoulder, disillusioned and weary leader willing to go to any lengths to protect the world. They didn’t feel as realized to me, as the incredible world they lived in.

And I sometimes questioned Farden and Mithrid’s relationship. It’s a pretty big part of the story, and affected my interest more than anything else. (BTW this wasn’t a romantic relationship it’s more a comrade-in-arms kind of thing.)

I wondered why was he willing to sacrifice the many for his cause, but Mithrid, he felt he had to protect?  He didn’t seem to see her as a daughter but more someone that he felt bad for their circumstances.

And why, after so many years of keeping himself aloof from all but his closest circle he had interest in her welfare, out of a stronghold full of people that had suffered the same kinds of losses as she did?

Outside of the obvious, of course, that I won’t go into for more spoilery reasons, but Farden could have as easily sent assassins rather than saviors and in his mindset at that point, that would almost have made more sense to me.

Anyway, back to the stuff I loved-

The highlight for me in this story, was the siege and the big battle towards the end. I love sieges. I thought the scale of the armies were shown well and I couldn’t help but think of some of those scenes in the Tolkien movies when they’d pan out and you could see the scope of the gathered armies, their magnitudes so astounding that you wondered how the good guys could ever succeed. Very cool.

And on a side-note, as someone who lives in the north and has winter up to 7 months of the year; I really felt the cold in this book. The crunch of the snow, that cut right through you chill of the wind, the ozone smell- it felt like winter.

TLDR:

I didn’t connect to the main players as much as I would have liked but The Forever King is definitely worth checking out if you like epic fantasy with an impressively built landscape and very present magic.


JONATHAN

The Forever King (hereafter referred to as FK) is a sprawling, classic-style epic involving magic, mystical races such as minotaurs, vampires, a dark lord that needs overthrowing, a heroic symbol about which to rally around, a plucky youngster, and—of course—dragons. FK is the first book of a second series covering the events in the world Emaneska but I was able to pick it up well enough and didn’t feel like there was story I was missing. The Arka Empire has vanquished magic and hoarded what remains for its own ends, and come to dominate the land, though a band of rebels, including the Written mages, continues the struggle—all set against a backdrop of Norse gods, especially the trickster Loki.

The tale of FK is told through a number of POVs, though mostly via Mithrid, a teenage girl whose village is destroyed in a false-flag operation by the Arka; and Farden, the leader of the rebellion whose conscience and self-doubt are as lethal an enemy as the Arka. These main characters are generally easy to empathize with. I liked them both, though their character development take on familiar arcs. Other characters receive variable development, though I found the antagonists too one-note for my taste. The Arkan emperor Malvus is suitably cruel and malicious but that’s about it; aside from wanting to dominate the world, there's not much depth. The sentient dragons added a note of fun, especially one young, smart-mouth, speedy dragon who flies like a drunken maniac.

The depth and lore of the world are impressive and reveal not only a layered history for both realm and characters, but also an interesting, varied magic system. I feel like I’ve read a lot of fantasy lately based on Norse mythology and while its presence here was light, Loki functioned as much in a deus ex machina role for the antagonists, instigating certain plot events and bailing them out of trouble. Timely interference by the gods, just ‘cause, is pretty standard for fantasy but I would have preferred to see the antagonists use their big brains to drive the plot more often. The overall pace felt a little off to me, with the first half of FK feeling quite slow to develop. That said, I enjoyed the second half quite a bit more as certain events and fighting happens, though I found the climax generally unsatisying. A number of character die but I expect most fans of epic fantasy will see the major deaths coming; in fact, the overall plot was fairly predictable and hit most of the notes I was expecting.

All this may sound as if I didn’t enjoy the book. I did, though I’m not sure it stands out to me. To put it simply, I’d say that FK is a typical epic fantasy. It's solid but does little to distinguish itself from others in the genre.

FK should appeal to fans of epic fantasy, teen protagonists, intelligent dragons, and large-scale worldbuilding.

ŁUKASZ

Ben Galley's The Forever King has it all - history, war, adventure, magic, and mystery. You can feel the author's creative passion seeping through the pages. Fans of epic fantasy will be thrilled. Sadly, I'm not one of them.

Arka Empire banned magick (yes, with k) and kills those who possess it. Sure, there is a rebellion (there's always one) led by the Outlaw King, but they operate near the empire's northern fringes. Mithrid Fenn leads challenging but overall enjoyable life until the spellbook washes ashore. Then, things go terribly, terribly wrong, and she loses everything she holds dear.

She joins the rebels, learns valuable lessons, discovers her inner potential and appetite for revenge. Of course, it's much more complicated than that, what with dragons, politics, precarious balance of power. You'll find out for yourself if you give it a try.

Mithrid is a fierce female protagonist. Not always likable, sometimes headstrong, but focused and determined, and I appreciate those qualities. Her development and acceptance of her potential to do magick is gradual and convincing. Kudos for that.

Side characters are relatable and magic inventive - it's based on words and sounds, and some mages have spellbooks carved into their backs.  Fascinating stuff.

While The Forever King's world is quite captivating, the amount of information can feel cumbersome. Readers have to consume a lot of lore to understand where the story takes them. Of course, fantasy readers want lore and worldbuilding, but it sometimes feels like the story doesn't always come first. That said, I'm not too fond of epic fantasy precisely because of this. I may be just the wrong reader to appreciate Ben's work; extensive worldbuilding tires me quickly.

Although the story takes some time to get going and wrap up toward the end, it feels structurally balanced. However, the story's pacing may feel uneven to those who like a faster pace; the extended passages and some repetitions slow it down. I think (but it's strongly subjective) that cutting off 20 % of the text wouldn't hurt it—quite the opposite.

The Forever King will appeal to fans of dark and epic fantasy. Even though it drags, it still packs a punch and provides solid entertainment. The evocative setting, relatable characters, and intriguing events create a memorable story. Not surprising or original, but hitting all the right epic fantasy beats. Additionally, the audiobook version is excellent, and I highly recommend this format to those who enjoy audiobooks.


OFFICIAL SPFBO SCORE







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