Title: A Wizard’s Forge
Author: A M Justice
Genre: Fantasy, Science-Fiction
Date of Publication: 19th September, 2016
Page Count: 326 pages (Kindle edition)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)
On a planet far from Earth, descendants of marooned space travelers fight a decades-long war. Shy scholar Victoria knows nothing of this conflict until pirates kidnap and sell her to the sadistic tyrant behind it. He keeps her naked and locked in a tower, subjecting her to months of psychological torture. After seizing an opportunity to escape, Vic joins the fight against her former captor and begins walking a bloody path toward revenge.
As the Blade, Vic gains glory raiding her enemy’s forces, but the ordeal in his tower haunts her. Bitter memories keep her from returning the love of the kindhearted Prince Ashel, whose family has fended off the tyrant’s invading army for a generation. When enemy soldiers capture Ashel, Vic embarks on a quest to rescue him and, on the journey, discovers a source of spectacular power. With wizardry, Vic can rescue the prince, end the war, and wreak the vengeance she craves, but she might also destroy her only chance for peace.
I’ve had quite the tumultuous journey with this book – at first, I couldn’t stomach the chapters with our heroine Vic in captivity, because it made my stomach churn too much. I turned to other books and left this behind, until I felt too guilty about having this on my TBR for so long and picked it up again, determined to soldier through. Once I got into it, I was HOOKED – I stayed up til 3am in the morning and had to force myself to put my phone down before I risked dropping it on my face out of weariness! Then the following day as I was reading the second half, some of the plot threads just didn’t come together properly, other arcs were introduced that didn’t go anywhere and the tone grew rather unexpectedly dark towards the end. I’ve never had such mood whiplash with a book before!
I can’t separate out what the pros and cons were, as they’re inextricably tied. For instance, the beginning with Vic being kept as the naked plaything of the villain was so hard for me to read – although there is no penetrative rape, the sexual as well as psychological assault on her was nearly unbearable. But what I have tremendous respect for is that the author didn’t gratuitously pen these scenes and then move on, to the contrary, they have long-lasting impact on Vic throughout the rest of the story. We see her struggling to cope in the aftermath, and even once she has seemingly moved on, there is the occasional glimpse of her breaking down which rings so true to life. People can move on from a tragedy and be seemingly well-adjusted, then have a setback and experience that pain and grief all over again.
I absolutely cannot stand rape as a plot device, but that’s because I’ve found a lot of authors tend to throw it in for shock value and nothing more. I really appreciate that’s not the case here at all, and I wish more authors would similarly only incorporate sexual assault if they’re willing to actually explore how it affects the character in question and show their recovery from this event.
Another aspect I enjoy is how sprawling and ambitious the story is – it takes the protagonist in so many different directions and fleshes out several different lifestyles for her. Vic: Scholar, Captive, Royal Ward, Soldier, Wizard.I couldn’t predict where Vic’s path would lead her from one chapter to the next, it was such a roller-coaster ride! I loved seeing Vic pick herself up from her most broken and vulnerable, displaying this amazing resiliency and great fortitude as she rebuilt herself and forged her own way in a foreign kingdom.
And yet that’s also its weakness, there’s almost TOO much packed into this one novel. As if in concession to that, we’re treated to a couple of time-jumps to take the character from one point to another, and I find that a little disappointing because I’m interested in seeing that growth and how Vic adjusts from one role to the next. I feel like the characters and plot would’ve been better served if this were split across two different novels – I know it’s called ‘A Wizard’s Forge‘, but the wizardry towards the end didn’t feel convincing and I felt that since Vic had suddenly became super powerful, she ought to have been able to defeat all her enemies then and there rather than having several chapters still to go. Plus there was an odd time-travel/prophecy angle that was introduced late in the game and it felt quite of place and superfluous to the plot, there was already so much going on that this was like the straw that broke the camel’s back!
On to the supporting characters – since the book spans several years with the time-jumps, we do meet and then move on from a stable of characters with some frequency. The most important and constant would be the royal family of Latha, who take Vic under their wing: the king dotes on her, the queen is more suspicious and I’m very dubious about her motives (she’s so cunning that by the end, I’m still not sure if she’s trying to kill Vic or not), the princess Bethniel is a flighty princess who does some growing up when she needs to defend her claim to the throne and the prince Ashel…well. He’s the main love interest and very tedious and exasperating in my opinion – BUT the best thing about this book is that Vic doesn’t let his feelings for her hold her back. I totally adore that she puts her mission first and love life second, it’s such a rarity, I never read about female characters doing that! And I also enjoy how the ‘damsel in distress’ trope is flipped on its head here with Vic needing to mount a rescue mission on Ashel’s behalf.
Overall, this is a very imaginative and thrilling book with tons of action and suspense. The different countries in the fantasy world were very well-thought-out and creatively established with elements of sci-fi. I would’ve liked for the story to be allowed to ‘breathe’ and settle in a little more instead of jumping from one highlight to the next, and supporting characters suffered a little from not being fully developed or lacking proper character motivation, but I did enjoy reading about the protagonist’s adventures as well as her emotional journey.
Note: I would caution those who are squeamish about sexual slavery and/or torture scenes to be aware that there are fairly graphic descriptions of both contained in this book.
Personal Rating: 4 out of 5 kitties approve this book!
Disclaimer: I received a digital ARC free from Wise Ink Creative Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.