Ice Forged is an entertaining but flawed fantasy/post-apocalyptic hybrid that dazzles in its depiction of the frozen waste of Edgeland and its prisoners/colonists but undergoes a disappointing evolution near the end that results in a very forgettable conclusion.
The story itself centers on a young nobleman, Blaine McFadden, who succumbs to righteous anger and slays his abusive father. The King of Donderath shows mercy to young Blaine by banishing him to a penal colony in the bitterly cold, northern realm called Edgeland. This is a country of snow and ice, mountains and volcanos, which has six months of daylight and six months of perpetual night. Life here is possible, but it is a painful one, filled with never ending coldness that seeps into your bones until you forget what warmth ever felt like. Indeed, without the liberal use of magic, life in this harsh penal colony might not even be possible, and it definitely would not exist without the supply ships that arrive from Donderath throughout the year. So while Blaine’s banishment to Edgeland is cloaked in mercy, it is in truth a sentence worse than death!
After Blaine receives this punishment, six years pass in the book with the turning of a page. Our young hero is now called "Mick", having decided to hide his noble heritage from his fellow prisoners, and he has survived long enough to become a colonist instead of a prisoner. With a small group of friends, he now owns his own homestead on his own meager farm, raises crops and animals, works a job on the fishing boats that brave the icy sea to bring in the colonies main food source and has moved on with his life. Survival is harsh, painful even, in Edgeland, but there is a certain joy to it that Blaine has embraced. But now things have taken a turn for the worst in this rugged land, for the supply ships have stopped coming. No one knows why exactly, though rumors abound, but what Blaine and all his fellow colonist do know is that soon the six month long cycle of perpetual darkness will begin in Edgeland and without supplies no one might survive this most brutal of times!
Meanwhile, across the frigid sea in the Kingdom of Donderath, the king knows exactly why the supply ships remain at anchor in the harbors: war! A continental spanning conflict has broken out between the four main powers in the land. A struggle that initially looked to be the traditional land grab by one kingdom resulting in a brief war and one country gaining a few miles of land has turned into something much more deadly. For the King of Meroven demands total victory in this conflict, and to obtain this elusive prize he has decided to unleash the full potential of his battle mages upon his foes. Something no other monarch in history has ever felt comfortable doing, because not even the wise are sure what the end result of such a magical armageddon might be to the world and to the magic itself!
Quite an interesting set up, don’t you think?
I did, and all in all, Ice Forged was a decent novel. However, it is probably much better labeled a post-apocalyptic novel than an epic fantasy. The reason I say this is that the novel begins with a rugged group of people, not in the mainstream of their advanced "magical" society, but on the outskirts of civilization. We are introduced to the high tech – I mean, magical world these people once lived in and then witness a horrible cataclysm that wipes out this advanced society, which forces the "survivors" out on the fringe to begin using their highly specialized skills to save the world from its plunge into absolute chaos. Classic post-apocalyptic fiction with a bit of fantasy "magic" thrown in.
Once a fantasy reader understands and accepts Ice Forged for what it is, they can then appreciate the excellent job Gail Z. Martin does for much of this novel in making Blaine "Mick" McFadden’s story so interesting and compelling. It truly is a deftly crafted tale which contrasts a fully realized penal colony with its civilized mother country, allowing a reader to see how magic could become as commonplace as modern day technology and be unknowingly used by everyone for the simplest things to the most complex. Unfortunately, after the apocalypse that destroys this interesting culture, things go a bit awry in this novel.
I personally had two main problems with the story from this point forward.
One, things are too easy for Blaine and his friends. Everything falls into our protagonists waiting arms with far too much regularity. Ancient maps? Blaine gets them. Someone to advice him of what to do with the maps? No problem, there is an ancient hermit in Edgeland that no one knew about before. Civilization ends, but Blaine is far away and doesn’t know it? We will bring a survivor to him. Smoldering conflict between the colonists and the prison warden? Boom, there is a quick fight, and Blaine is now a part of the new ruling body. Food shortages? Blaine finds an abandoned merchant vessel full of goods for the penal colony. Ship to get back to mainland to begin epic quest? I did mention the abandoned merchant vessel, right? Blaine needs to travel through the wreckage of chaos back on the continent? No problem, our hero has more unlooked for allies waiting him. It just went on and on with the easy problem resolutions.
Two, vampires. Let us get one thing straight: I do not dislike vampires. They are great. Watched Dark Shadows as a kid and adored it. The Twilight movies were okay, and yes, I would have voted for Edward. So like I said, I dig vampires. They can be wonderful characters who can add an extra depth and feeling to any story they are in, but here they soon become the whole story. Whenever someone needs saving, there appears a vampire. Need some ancient knowledge? We have a vampire who knows that. Where should Blaine go and what should he do on his epic quest? A vampire knows. Honestly, the vampires went from a cool part of the story to the whole story by the end. I mean, I read a novel about Blaine only to see him turned into a vampires’ gofer?
Criticisms aside, however, Ice Forged has a very interesting post-apocalyptic fantasy world that Gail Z. Martin can weave many a compelling story in for years to come. Just in book two, I look forward to reading more about Blaine’s epic quest to save magic, the obvious rebuilding of society in the aftermath of disaster, and to discover if King of Meroven survived the armageddon he unleashed and is still determined to conquer the continent. So join me in this adventure and give this genre bender a try.
I received this book from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank both of them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.