Ice Forged is the first book in a fantasy, sword and sorcery series, The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, written by Gail Z. Martin. It is about a man named Blaine “Mick” McFadden who is exiled to a frozen penal colony, Velant, after murdering the man who raped his sister. While Blaine is in exile, the nation of Dondareth is in a politically charged state, ripe for war. Duplicity causes the nation to become unstable, which then forces them to cut off all ties to the colony, including supply shipments. When the people of Velant go months without sustenance from Dondareth, the prisoners realise something terrible must have gone wrong, and take matters into their own hands.
Ice Forged is one of those books that had numerous qualities to make it an excellent, classical fantasy novel, such as wonderful world-building, compelling characters, decent political intrigue, amazing magical mechanics, and more. Yet, somewhere along the way the narrative ended up falling terribly short, leaving me feeling very disappointed by the finale.
Let’s take a look at all of the good components of the book, which will be a draw for many people who enjoy the adult fantasy genre. My favourite was the world-building. The setting, atmosphere, and ambiance are described rather impeccably providing a great sense of escapism for the reader. In the opening scene when Blaine commits the murder, I felt as if I was standing right beside him, following his every step along the way. I could feel the tension that hung in the evening breeze, the warmth of the blood upon his fingers, the rage fuelling his veins. Much later when we get a glimpse of his life in Velant, where everything is ice, snow, and despair, once again I could feel everything within myself as if I were transported to the penal colony myself. Modern fantasy nowadays just doesn’t have this level of capturing the scenes for what they are and it is a trait I appreciated dearly.
Additionally, the magic in the story is plays a huge part to the plot and the eventual conflict that our protagonist will have to confront in various ways. In an effort to avoid spoilers, all I will say is that magic is a very important aspect to how things are ran in the world, from the simplest of farming and cooking methods to the complexities of defending against attacks and healing. When that magic is effected, it affects quite literally every single thing and every single person in amazingly detailed ways. I haven’t seen a narrative so heavily influenced by magic as a livelihood in a bloody long time.
Another quality the novel captures quite wonderfully is Blaine’s persona and struggles. When he kills the culprit who harmed his sister, he knows upfront what the murder will rob him of. He comes from a respected noble house with family money that he is entitled to inheriting. But none of that means anything to him when he thinks about his sister’s disgrace and trauma. He is willing to sacrifice everything to ensure the future safety of his family. He never comes off as pompous or arrogant, but instead a normal and down-to-earth human being who has integrity. This immediately created a connection between me and Blaine and I began to root for his success, whatever that may entail with him being exiled to a frozen block of ice.
Unfortunately, even with how much I adored Blaine, he doesn’t receive much growth in this first instalment. I suspect that the vast majority of his growth shall follow in later volumes. This book worked to lay out the foundation of what Blaine’s typical fantasy “Hero Quest” will be by introducing the basic conflict, the key political players, how the environments will impact his quest(s), and what he has to lose versus what he has to gain. While I respect the need to put down groundwork, I still would have preferred a morsel of some sort of internal character progress.
Another issue that I struggled with in Ice Forged is the pacing. Initially, the pacing felt like a perfect match to the level of world-building and the means of which the parts were being placed on the board for the “oh shit” moment to arrive, yet after that moment comes and goes, it kept moving slowly. The progression couldn’t keep up with all the snowball effects of that plot twist moment, upon which everything began to unravel and feel unnecessarily sluggish and disconnected. It was around this section that I began to lose interest in what was going on. When I finally reached the ending, I couldn’t appreciate the events that occurred, which set you up for the next instalment, because my heart totally left the novel.
In conclusion, if you want to read a book that has excellent world-building, very interesting use of magical mechanics pertaining to atmosphere and political strife, as well as some interesting characters, then you can try giving Ice Forged a shot. I will provide a warning, however, that it is slow, oft times uselessly so, and it can be a beast to trudge through, specifically in the second half to last one-third, dropping content quality significantly.