If you’re a fan of dark, gritty military fantasy, then In Thunder Forged is the book for you. Ari Marmell is a superb writer, and he’s at the top of his game in this first volume of The Iron Kingdoms Chronicles. The series is based on the Warmachine Steam Powered Fantasy Wargame and the Iron Kingdoms Role Playing Game. They’re produced by Privateer Press. I have to admit that I wasn’t familiar with them, not really having time to add gaming to my already full schedule. After reading In Thunder Forged, I’m going to check them out.
The basic setup is pretty straightforward. The kingdoms of Cygnar and Khador are at war. A high ranking Cygnarian alchemist has stolen a formula which, if it falls into the wrong hands, could turn the tide of the war. The alchemist is in the kingdom of Llael, and he’s hidden the formula well. It’s up to a master spy, a lone knight, and an elite military unit to find the formula and return it to Cygnar.
Like I said, a straightforward setup. The execution of the plan, however, turns out to be anything but straightforward. There’s action aplenty, plots within plots, and some characters you really grow to care about. Too bad some of them aren’t going to survive the mission. Plus there’s a villain you really love to hate.
Marmell has become one of my favorite writers (see my reviews of his Widdershins adventures here and here). His prose is crisp and clear. The wit we saw in the Widdershins novels is still there, but it’s muted. Those are YA novels; this isn’t. In Thunder Forged is a little dark and violent for a YA label, although many YA readers could certainly handle the contents.
There are a number of viewpoint characters in the book. The spy, the knight, and the commander of the military unit are all women. That’s not to say there aren’t male viewpoint characters. They’re there, but they’re supporting cast members. These three women are tough, competent, and not to be trifled with. Marmell does an outstanding job not only juggling the viewpoints but making these women distinct individuals, each with her own sets of flaws and personality traits. Often women in fighting roles are from central casting, cardboard and two dimensional, essentially stereotypes. Not so here.
And the men are just as fully developed. I think my favorite character is Corporal Atherton Gaust, the gunmage. Flamboyant, daring, and deadly.
The action scenes are some of the best I’ve read in a while. Marmell handles conflict between armies as well as he does between individuals. And the combat scenes aren’t simply slaughter porn. Strategy and tactics come into play. This is military fantasy for people who like to think.
In Thunder Forged takes place in an industrial revolution era society where guns, swords, and mechanical men all play roles in the war. It’s not another Tolkien clone. Rather it’s fresh and different. And highly addictive. The next volume in the series will be out soon (Big Iron by C. A. Sulieman), and I’m looking forward to it.
In Thunder Forged hit the shelves last week. Check it out.
I would like to thank Pyr books for providing me with a review copy of In Thunder Forged.