Everyone is different and likes and dislikes different things. Reading is no exception. One person’s all-time favorite might seem too bland or too high stakes for another. That being said, the opinions of our judges in this contest are just that, opinions. Just because we let a book go, doesn’t mean it isn’t good. It could be your next favorite, who knows?
Now that we are in the finals, we are going to be doing full reviews for each book. The books are being reviewed in no particular order, not in order of their star rating. We are just reviewing them as we finish reading them.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can learn more about the contest here.
Today we are reviewing The Forever King, which was the Before We Go Blog’s pick for this year’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. You can read their review here. And you can see the finalist spreadsheet here.
Mithrid Fenn wants nothing to do with magick. Magick is a curse word, banned by the vast Arka Empire and punishable by death. Its purging has finally brought peace to war-torn Emaneska. Only a stubborn rebellion, led by the warlord Outlaw King, raids and pillages the empire’s northern fringes. To cliff-brat Mithrid, this is an age of tranquility and childhood games. That is until an illegal spellbook washes up on her shores, and she finds herself thrust into a war she never knew existed. Now hunted by daemons and mages, she is dragged inexorably north to Scalussen and its rebels fighting doggedly to preserve a memory of freedom. Mithrid holds no such ideals. She fights for revenge and nothing nobler. If spilling blood means helping the Outlaw King, then so be it. Even if it means all-out war.
Mithrid’s home is the cliffs above the sea. Excitement in her village comes mostly from the occasional trader, and the even more occasional shipwreck. While scouring the remains of a battle from the night before, her and her friends find a book half buried in the waves and sand. When they sneak a peek at it under the cover of darkness, and away from their sleeping parents, all hell breaks loose.
Modren is one of the last of The Written, a mage of great power, his spells tattooed upon his back. Magick is evil and has been banned, the dragons of the land are dead, or at least, that’s what the powers that be want the people to believe. Modren knows the truth and helps fight an invisible war defeating enemy mages, daemons, and saving refugees of the violence. The only bastion of hope is Scalussen in the north, where in the summer the sun never sets, and great ships carry precious cargo away from those who would destroy it.
But there is a new player on the field. Someone none of the sides expected. Someone with their own agenda, and who could turn the tides of the invisible war, into all-out war. For reasons none of the players could ever imagine.
Of all the things about this book, the one all our judges agreed on, was Ben Galley is an amazing worldbuilder. His writing brings to life a world with hard edges and brilliant beams of light. The beauty and brutality of nature and magic, and all the nuance each brings to the page. Whether it is a massive ship caught in an unnatural storm, or the heat of dragon’s breath, you can see and feel world around you, just as the characters that are experiencing it.
Some of the judges thought the same of the characters, especially Mithrid, the fourteen-year-old girl ripped from her home and determined to fight to avenge her lost loved ones. Others thought the characters seemed flat for a lot of the story. This is the second series of books in a greater series of series. And as it says at the beginning of the book, the story can be enjoyed with no prior knowledge, but reading The Written series first, could give a deeper connection and meaning to the story. Many of our judges believed this to be the case.
So while we enjoyed the writing and worldbuilding, not having the depth of knowledge from the first series, meant some of the judges couldn’t get as deep into the story as they would have liked. However, if you enjoy epic fantasy, dragons, and amazing writing, we definitely suggest you give this book a try. And also Galley’s other work, as his writing is excellent!
Fantastic writing with a gripping story.
Galley’s writing is awesome. You can feel the sea spray, the cold artic winds, and smell the dragons’ breath. I love Mithrid and her chapters were my favorites. I did like the other characters, but I kind of wish the chapters from the villains had been shorter or fewer. I got a lot more out of the good guys dealing with the bad guys, than I got from the bad guys plotting against the good guys. Overall though, I loved the world and the story and am excited to read more!
The Forever King is so long… Which might not have been a problem, if it had caught my interest right from the start, but I only started to really engage with the plot at about the halfway point.
I wonder if I would have liked this better if I had read the previous series, The Written, as this seems to be kind of a sequel series. Maybe if I had already known these characters, I might have cared about them earlier? As it is, it took me ages to connect to them, they felt flat for a long while before they finally took shape in my mind.
My husband who read it at the same time enjoyed it more, and to that specific problem just shrugged and said, “Oh well, it’s a more classical fantasy.” He also and didn’t mind the bad guy seemingly being bad for the sake of being the villain. And the hero saves the world because that is what heroes are supposed to do. I personally like more rounded and deeper characters.
In the second half the characters have started to settle a bit, but mostly it’s the action being turned up high that makes me more engaged, and still not the characters.
I also didn’t like the way it felt very classic and ‘tame’ most of the time, but then felt grimdark for one paragraph, before falling back to an easy style. For me the switch didn’t feel natural, but grinded a bit and stood out.
As much as I enjoy Ben Galley’s work—his worldbuilding is fantastic as are his magic systems and his characters—this is not one of my favourites. Mithrid is an absolute joy to read and her growth as a person and a practicing, successful Mage is lovely. However, The Forever King features much of the same characters in his Emanska series and I feel the background knowledge from Emanska is needed to make The Forever King more of an enjoyable read.
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Our judges are Amber Freeman, Jennie Ivins, Julia Kitvaria Sarene, Kartik Narayanan, Kerry Smith, and Lynn K. If you’d like to learn more about us, including our likes and dislikes, you can read about them here.
Any queries should be directed at me, Jennie Ivins, via DM on Facebook and Twitter.