John C Adams Reviews 'The Forge in the Forest'
The Forge in the Forest by Michael Scott Rohan
In some ways, 'The Forge in the Forest' from Michael Scott Rohan is an entirely typical quest epic in the realm of fantasy. In others, the novel has a very unusual style to it that really sets it apart from other sword-and-sorcery narratives. For that reason, I was really quite intrigued by the opening chapters and was soon immersed in the book.
Rohan is best known for 'The Winter of the World' trilogy, set during an ice age. After studying at Oxford, he also wrote science fiction and a nonfiction account of the arrival of Christianity in Viking lands. He has also written a few more standalone fantasy novels.
'The Forge in the Forest' is the second in 'The Winter of the World' trilogy. The central character is Elof who sets off in a quest with his companions to find the lost legendary cities of the east. The group intends to ask the inhabitants to join forces with their own people against the Ekwesh. The Ekwesh were defeated in the first book in the series, but they are expected to seek their revenge against the western lands. Elof and his companions are also concerned about the menacing Ice heading south to overwhelm civilisation.
The journey, like any self-respecting quest epic is long, arduous and dangerous. Elof and his group finally find the lost cities and befriend the rulers there. The people living in the lost cities are ancients, who apparently live lives far longer in duration than humankind. Elof, by trade a blacksmith, is able to build a forge deep in the forest.
In some ways, this book felt like a very typical fantasy narrative. 'The Forge in the Forest' features a small group who are given a burdensome task of great importance to the known world. They make a long and perilous journey that finds good creatures at the other end to help them keep civilisation safe. Much of the quest reminded me of 'The Fellowship of the Ring', in a good way because I love that book. The lengthy stay at the lost city was redolent of the Fellowship's rest at Rivendell. In other ways, it felt very different, however. There were hints of magical creatures, but no evident presence of the kind of nonhumans like dwarves and elves that feature so prominently in 'The Lord of the Rings' series.
The writing style was intriguing, and once I got used to it I really loved it because it was strong and very exterior to the characters. It was undeniably well written, but the style lingered long on the physical terrain, including the forest. It was emotionally distant from the characters, with a continual focus on action within a vividly described outer world. It only had one plotline and was consistently told within Elof's perspective, but with plenty of description within what was also quite a short tale it didn't drag in the way that I feared it might do. The key lay in its being quite a short novel. I liked 'The Forge in the Forest' very much, but I do generally prefer books that are more emotionally linked to the characters. A longer story with more plot would have given space to open up the characters a little more.
'The Forge in the Forest' also ruminated upon the importance of the natural world as a buffer against natural disasters such as the march south of the ice. The emphasis lies in balance between mankind and the natural world. In that sense, this novel was somewhat ahead of its time.
Many thanks for reading my review. The comments section is open. My next post is on Friday.
Thank you also to Aebastian Unrau, veeterzy and Jonathan Kemper for providing the images for this post via Unsplash.