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Bewildering Stories

Simon Williams, Oblivion’s Forge

reviewed by Alison McBain

Oblivion’s Forge
Author: Simon Williams
Date: July 13, 2011
Paperback: 346 pages
ISBN: 1849141754; 9781849141758
Price: $24.45

Fantasy has always been my first love in fiction, probably since I was six and introduced to the wonderful world of secret lands through wardrobe doors. I’m always happy to pick up a fantasy book by an author who is new to me.

But I feel that, when I do, I come with a disclaimer, too: I’m probably more widely read in the fantasy genre than any other, and I’ve seen a lot of the common tropes that appear in books influenced by the greats. It’s hard for me to find something in fantasy that I consider to cover new ground, although I do enjoy the old ground, sure enough.

So it is with this mixed background that I picked up Oblivion’s Forge by Simon Williams. There is a lot to like about this book, which is the first in a series. I thought there was good pacing and mystery to draw the reader in, and some really great description and details thrown in to create realistic scenes. The characters are easy to sympathize with and root for. The book is also fairly complex, with a multitude of characters.

There are several central characters in the book, and a number of secondary characters who seem they might become more important in subsequent novels. Of the main characters, the reader is first introduced to Vornen. He is a wandering scoundrel with a dark power: the ability to sense Gates, which are randomly-appearing portals leading to perilous places. The Gates presage the return of a centuries-old race of creatures that will bring death and destruction to Aona.

In a different part of the world is Amethyst, another wanderer who becomes trapped by a witch’s curse. She must seek out a particular girl, one who is integral to helping with the growing problems that the world is facing with the Gates.

Finally, there’s Jaana, who fears that she has lost her powers of healing when a plague that she has no cure for sweeps across the land. When returning to her mentor’s home for help, she runs into Lyya, a luyan (similar to an elf), who agrees to travel with her and aid her.

I won’t mention all the secondary characters, as there is a whole cast of them, and they don’t have complete story arcs in this book. While I don’t mind continuations of character stories in a series, I felt there might have been a few too many different people for a first book; some characters we see only once or twice, and their introduction seems to slow down the main storyline and add nothing new to the eventual conclusion of the novel.

Even in a book that is part of a series, I feel that it’s hard to keep the reader focused if too many new characters are introduced after the halfway point in the book. By then, especially, the exposition should be over and the story should be in full swing.

There were a few other small things that caught my attention and that I will mention. They were items that struck me as strange probably because I have read so much fantasy. Perhaps the average reader wouldn’t notice or pay much attention to these details, but a keen editor would. For example:

“One can never be too careful in choosing names” — a Bewildering Stories motto. Almost all the characters have unusual names. However, one character, Jaana’s mentor, has a completely ordinary name, Ellen. It pulled me a little out of the story, since the name was competing against ones like Fistelkarn.

Another small hiccup: one of the characters is known for carrying throwing knives, but the knives are all of different weights and sizes. Knives of different sizes are great for cooking; but for throwing, not so much. The average reader may not even notice such details; they’re small items and don’t get in the way of a good story.

The story is quite well put together otherwise: full of adventure, mystery, and good action sequences, I think this work would appeal to fans of George R. R. Martin, Robert Jordan or Tad Williams. It is a complex story with interesting characters that kept me reading to the very end.

Copyright © 2017 by Alison McBain

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