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Darkness Forged by Matt Larkin – SPFBO #6 Finals Review

Darkness Forged by Matt Larkin – SPFBO #6 Finals Review
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Book Name: Darkness Forged
Author: Matt Larkin
Publisher(s): Self-Published
Formatt: Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Historical Fantasy
Release Date: July 29, 2017

Vengeance is wrought. Darkness is forged.

The greatest crafts on Midgard come from the dvergar realm of Nidavellir. Volund, a gifted smith and once apprentice to the dvergar, escaped their dark realm to find solace in the arms of a Valkyrie.

Nine years of respite.

And then she was gone.

What would you do to reclaim your light?

But Volund’s reputation precedes him, and a cruel king knows the weapons Volund forges can win his wars. Imprisoned in the king’s forge, Volund’s only hope to escape is to find his wife. If he can’t, more than the forge’s darkness will overtake him.

Where will he turn when the light finally fades?

Darkness Forged, which is part of a larger universe created by Matt Larkin, tells a grimdark tale of three brothers in ancient Scandinavia. When the story opens, the brothers have been wed to a trio of Valkyries for nine years. However, marital bliss ends with the sudden and mysterious disappearance of all three wives. The sole child of the three unions is left behind but cannot say what happened to his mother, and only each wife’s gold ring remains as a clue. The rings act as magical homing devices, providing each brother with a sense of direction for his lost bride. The rest of the story is about the brothers’ separate quests to find their wives.

In addition to each brother’s present-day search for his wife, we’re presented with the youngest brother’s backstory. A gifted smith, Volund was apprenticed at age twelve to a dwarf-like race who used abhorrent methods, including beatings, torture, and rape, as part of his training regimen in the art of smithcraft. This experience plants some dark seeds in Volund, which begin to flower after his wife disappears.

Our Thoughts

Some team members enthusiastically embraced the Nordic mythos and dark themes, whereas others found the Norse setting too commonplace. Most of our judges found the pacing slow, and several felt the characters were underdeveloped. This is mainly a story about the youngest brother’s descent into darkness, as if Anakin Skywalker inhabited Midgard. Unfortunately, the extensive backstory meant to explain Volund’s choices didn’t help win the judges’ esteem. Some found these flashbacks slowed the pacing over-much, and others didn’t think they were sufficient to explain Volund’s present-day decisions. Judges also found the leaps between timelines and storylines more confusing than riveting.

Selected comments from judges

A. M.

Because I like the Nordic mythos, I was interested in the setting of this title, and I thought the mix of human and otherworldly races worked well. In fact, the worldbuilding was the strongest element of this book. The writing was mostly good, except the liberal use of modern curse words was jarring. The occasional F-bomb might have been used to great effect, but the dialogue was rife with casual profanity that simply didn’t fit the otherwise formal and lofty language.

Unfortunately, the plot also left me feeling very unsatisfied. The eldest brother’s story was so quickly glossed over, and his character so underdeveloped, I wondered why his narrative was even included in the book. The middle brother’s story was very conventional and held few surprises, and it seemed like the intersection of his story with the youngest brother’s should have had more impact for both of them.

Finally, even though we spend the most time with the youngest brother, and on the surface, his story was the best developed, the telling of it lacked the depth necessary to explore such a descent into darkness, because Volund struggles very little against his darker urges and exerts much effort to be worthy of his bride. I did like the end, especially as it directly addressed much of what bothered me about the relationships between the brothers and their wives. However, this denouement came too late and played out too quickly to redeem the entire story.

Kartik

Darkness Forged picks up speed towards the end, but that is not enough to redeem the story and it slow pacing. The story borrows heavily from ancient Norse mythology, which might excite some readers and might alienate others who are sick of this oft-used setting. I fall in the latter category, and so it was going to be an uphill battle to win my interest. Darkness Forged is appropriately dark and gloomy, and you know things are not going to end well. In a lot of ways, the story is like the fairy tales that inspired by the same mythology, in which the protagonists also do not fare well at the end.

Even though the book is half the size of comparable fantasies, I found it a chore to finish. Some portions of the story are overly detailed, while others get skimmed over. This lack of consistency contributes to the feeling of being lost. Unfortunately, the last ten to fifteen pages is where the story comes alive. When I read the conclusion, I felt maybe this should have been a short story, which would have made it more impactful.

The presence of the characters is also quite spotty. While the blurb indicates Volund is the protagonist, the story gives almost equal priority to the other two brothers. Again, I feel there is probably a lack of focus here, and it has to do with the main character. If Volund’s story were the singular focus, the story might have been better too.

Lynn

I enjoyed this dark, complex, but intriguing story. The structure of the book, which moves back and forth between past and present, with a different storyline for each brother, caused a few stumbles while figuring out whose story I was reading when the POV changes. On the plus side, there are a great deal of fantasy elements and they are quite dark, as creatures from other planes have made Midgard their home. Overall, it was a smooth read, although in an overly familiar setting, and the skimming over some main characters could be a problem for some. Readers should be warned there is torture, crippling, and mercenary warfare.

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Our judges are A. M. Justice, Julia Kitvaria Sarene, Kartik Narayanan, Kerry Smith, Lynn Kempner, and Mariëlle Ooms-Voges. 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 to A.M. Justice via DM (Facebook/Twitter).

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