Please note that this review shall contain major story spoilers for the previous instalment, Thieves of Blood.
‘We have no choice. Fight or die.’
‘I’ve been making that choice since the day I drew my first breath,’ Ghaji said. Elemental axe held high with its flames trailing bright against the night sky, the half-orc ran forward to meet the first wave of walking dead.”
Forge of the Mindslayers by Tim Waggoner is the second novel in the dark fantasy, sword-and-sorcery series, The Blade of the Flame. Diran and his half-Orc chum, Ghaji, receive a tip about a lich terrorising people in the mountains of Perhata. As they work to hunt down this malevolent force, the duo, and their comrades, end up getting ensnared in the local politics poisoning the two regions that are vying for control. Kidnapped and taken to the area’s most devastatingly evil island, they will have to battle their way off while combatting ghosts of the past and present to help stop the fighting forces threatening to usurp the innocents caught in the cross-hairs.
In the previous novel, Thieves of Blood, I described the elements that I adored about the narrative including almost non-stop swashbuckling action, vicious fantasy creatures, and cool camaraderie. While all of these elements are still present in the sequel, and carries forward the intrigue of Diran’s and Ghaji’s shenanigans, the story also slows down a tiny bit for more character development, which I appreciated on various levels.
The sequel starts with the small crew of companions searching for the lich’s hideout. We get a glimpse into how Diran is feeling after having allowed his former lover, Makala, to turn into a blood-thirsty vampire and not being able to do what was necessary to put her at rest, as well as the impact his guilt takes on his friends. This is a great way to start the adventure because it works to formulate an immediate connection to the first title without trying to avoid the ramifications of the events that occurred. This serves to highlight Diran as a distinctly compassionate person and the burdens that he typically carries around without the added personal attachment that’s being displayed here. Additionally, it sets the tone for the rest of the novel in numerous ways.
As the chums move forward in their quest to combat evil, we learn more about their past. With Ghaji, we get a clearer picture of what forced him to abandon his clan to set out on his own. With Hinto, we get a deeper examination into the roots of his PTSD and strong feelings of uselessness that stem from it. Tresslar has a complicated and lengthy history that is tied to his former captain, Erdis Cai, especially with respect to the origins of his dragonhead wand. Finally, Diran has much to square away with his time spent in the Brotherhood of the Blade, a league of renown and cold-hearted assassins. All of their histories are given more context while also being tied into a present plot that provides each person with depth that goes beyond their surface level basic identities. Likewise, it facilitates their mutual chemistry quite excellently, adding an empathetic essence to their found family dynamics.
There is still quite a heft of action in Forge of the Mindslayers, and it definitely has a beautiful level of brutality to it (squeamish folx may not like this bit too much), but it’s not quite as non-stop as it was in Thieves of Blood. We get small morsels of breaks in between some of the fighting to help the reader catch their breath and process the events that have occurred up to that respective point. Furthermore, it allows for the more seemingly convoluted facets to connect cohesively and provide a broader picture of the overarching plot that shall carry the tale into the third and final instalment. My favourite part is when they are trapped on the island that I mentioned in the synopsis. Visually it is one of the most vivid and mildly grotesque scenes in the whole book, plus it has a fun take on a classic monster type.
The finale for Forge of the Mindslayers leaves off on a bigger cliff-hanger than its predecessor. While the ending for Thieves of Blood was slightly open for more adventuring to come, overall the wrap-up was rather comfortable (if the novel were a stand-alone). However, here we are given one hell of a finale that tells the reader that there is plenty more devilish and dangerous things to arrive with another instalment. If you aren’t a fan of blatant cliff-hangers, then this may be off-putting to you. Even so, the third book is out so there won’t be much waiting to be had, luckily. Nevertheless, I found it wonderfully exciting, and it made the anticipation for book three all the more delightful.
Overall, Forge of the Mindslayers was a fantastic sequel with plenty of dark and mystical action, keen character revelations, and wickedly thrilling high fantasy storytelling. I still HIGHLY RECOMMEND this book—and the rest of the instalments—for anyone that is a fan of sword and sorcery fantasy, or non-fantasy readers searching for something fun to dip into the genre with.
Publication Date: March 2007
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Genre: Sword and Sorcery, Dark Fantasy
Series: The Blade of the Flame Book 2
Page Count: 320
Content Warnings: Violence. Swashbuckling Action. Graphic gore and blood. Character suffers a stroke (on-page). Death via blood loss, fighting, and cerebral haemorrhage. Graphic deaths (slaughter) of a family. Drowning in the ocean. Body mutilation via fire and bladed weaponry. Non-consensual drug use. Kidnapping. Mental instability via PTSD triggers. Amnesia. Survivor’s guilt and trauma. Use of poisons. Disturbing descriptions of nautical monsters. Mild sexual innuendo. Attempted burglary. Racism against multiracial beings. Misogyny. Graphic descriptions of infections.
GoodReads: Forge of the Mindslayers by Tim Waggoner
Availability: Out-of-print; eBook only.