Dark Forge by Miles Cameron

Only fools think war is simple.
Or glorious.

Some are warriors, some captains; others tend to the fallen or feed the living.

But on the magic-drenched battlefield, information is the lifeblood of victory, and Aranthur is about to discover that carrying messages, scouting the enemy, keeping his nerve, and passing on orders is more dangerous, and more essential, then an inexperienced soldier could imagine . . . especially when everything starts to go wrong.

Battle has been joined – on the field, in the magical sphere, and in the ever-shifting political arena . . .

It’s not very often that a sequel has a very different feel to the first book, and it’s rarer still to find a sequel that actually pulls this off.

Whereas Miles Cameron’s Cold Iron was a bit of a Kingkiller-esque story with some flintlock flavourings, I found Dark Forge to be a bit more of a serious, military book. If anything, it reminded me of a fantastical version of Bernard Cornwell’s “Sharpe” books, which I suppose is Cameron’s historical fiction expertise showing through.

While Aranthur spends most of his time in the first book at the Academy — learning magik, swordplay (of more than one variety), and building some relationships — in the second book he spends the majority of his time at war.

As a result, Dark Forge has a faster pace and a much heavier focus on the plot. This is great for those readers who prefer lots of battles and magical showmanship, but I have to admit that I missed the intimacy of the previous book. There are still some really emotional scenes, but there isn’t the same time spent exploring the relationships between the characters.

Aranthur is disgusted to find that he’s a natural at war, or “murdering”, as he prefers to think of it. He acknowledges that it’s “necessary”, but there’s some inner conflict there which Cameron touches on over the course of the story. I enjoyed that some of his magikal-geekery managed to shine through at times, despite the bleakness of his situation, and it’s interesting to watch how his experiences at war change him. It ties into how he grew as a person while at Academy (particularly after growing up in a small rural community), and I really love the continuation of that theme of different experiences and perspectives having an affect on who we are.

To sum up my feelings on this one… I liked it, but I’m not sure that it’s as much “my kind of book” as the first one was. It took me a while to grow into the story and re-familiarise myself with everything, despite how quickly it burst out of the gates, but I imagine this will be very well suited to binging the series as a whole.

Dark Forge is not the kind of book that I was expecting, but I found myself enjoying it anyway. If you enjoyed Cold Iron and you’re a fan of military style fantasy… then you’re gonna love this one.

Thanks to Gollancz, who provided an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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