Publisher: Hachette Audio (Audiobook – 24 January 2019)
Series: Masters & Mages – Book Two
Length: 16 hours and 58 minutes
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
After finally getting around to doing a quick review of King of Assassins by R. J. Barker the other day, I thought I would take this opportunity to do a quick review for the exceptional 2019 fantasy novel, Dark Forge, the second entry in the Masters & Mages trilogy by Miles Cameron.
Miles Cameron is an interesting and talented author who has written several amazing fantasy novels over the last couple of years. I am a little more familiar with Cameron under his main writing name, Christian Cameron, which he uses for his enjoyable and detailed historical fiction novels, such as last year’s The New Achilles. However, I really got into his fantasy fiction last year when I read the first Masters & Mages book, Cold Iron, which proved to be a particularly captivating and impressive novel that is really worth checking out. After enjoying Cold Iron I also decided to have listen to its sequel, Dark Forge, late last year, and while I had a fantastic time reading it, I completely failed to write a review for. This is a shame because Dark Forge was a really great read and I actually considered it to be one of the best books (and audiobooks) I read in 2019.
Only fools think war is simple.
Some are warriors, some captains; others tend to the fallen or feed the living.
But on the magic-drenched battlefield, information is the lifeblood of victory, and Aranthur is about to discover that carrying messages, scouting the enemy, keeping his nerve, and passing on orders is more dangerous, and more essential, then an inexperienced soldier could imagine . . . especially when everything starts to go wrong.
Battle has been joined – on the field, in the magical sphere, and in the ever-shifting political arena . . .
Dark Forge is an excellent novel which takes the reader on a vast and complex adventure through Cameron’s detailed fantasy world. The book follows the life of its protagonist, student Aranthur Timos, who, after getting involved in some intense espionage and intrigue in the previous novel, now finds himself on the battlefield as his city state goes to war to stop a dangerous and tyrannical new empire gaining power and destroying the current, benevolent status quo. There is a lot going on in this book, and the authors sets the reader on an impressive and extensive adventure which proves extremely hard to put down. Cameron starts this book off in impressive fashion, with the protagonist and many of the key side characters from the first novel involved a brutal and elaborate battle sequence that sees magic, gunpowder and troops utilised to a destructive degree. From there, the story follows Aranthur as he engages in an extended scouting mission, where he attempts to work out the origin of his enemies and the full extent of their plan. This is followed up with a particularly desperate siege before Aranthur finds himself back in the city that served as the main setting of Cold Iron, where political shenanigans see him branded a traitor and force him to sneak around the city in order to save his friends.
The author blends a lot of different story elements together into this book, which I felt came together well and helps to produce an extremely enjoyable narrative. The author continues to utilise his distinctive, detail-orientated writing style which fits the scope and tone of the series and helps to produce a fun read with the feel of a classic fantasy novel. I ended up having an outstanding time seeing the various fun and compelling places where Cameron took this great story, and it ended up being quite an enjoyable book. It also leaves open some compelling storylines for the final entry in the series and it will be interesting to see how the author ends him impressive overarching plot. I do think that readers who are interested in checking out Dark Forge should really read Cold Iron first. While Cameron did do a good job of examining some of the key events that occurred in the first novel, Cold Iron contained an immense amount of story detail, and I personally feel that readers would be well suited to have this story fresh in their mind before getting into Dark Forge.
One of the things that I like the most about the first entry in this series, Cold Iron, was the way in which it served as a coming-of-age story for the protagonist, Aranthur. Cameron continues this in Dark Forge, as the protagonist once again goes through a lot of growth. Not only does he begin to become a key player in the fight against the Master (the antagonist of the series), but he also starts to come into his own as a magical user, a swordsman and a leader. While he is somewhat reluctant to become a warrior and a killer, despite his clear aptitude for it, he eventually becomes more confident in his role, especially after seeing all the dangers and darkness out in the world. All this great growth continued to endear me to Aranthur, and it was a lot of fun to see the author portray a normal character who has vast responsibilities and adventure thrust upon him and must either adapt or crumble as a result. Dark Forge also continued to showcase several of the amazing side-characters who were initially introduced in Cold Iron. Each of these characters gets their own intriguing arcs throughout the book and it was fantastic to see them, and their relationships with Aranthur, evolve over the course of their extended adventure. Several new compelling characters were also introduced in this novel and their unique narratives helped to enhance Dark Forge’s story. All of these excellent characters are a lot of fun to follow and I look forward to seeing where they end up at the end of this series.
I also have to highlight the impressive world-building that Cameron featured in Dark Forge. The author continues to dive down deep into the lore and history of his new realm, particularly as the characters spend most of the novel exploring a new continent that was mentioned but not featured in Cold Iron. Dark Forge’s narrative spends significant time expanding the reader’s knowledge of this new continent, mainly because the protagonists engage in an epic and lengthy trek throughout it, and it was fascinating to see the cool new landscapes that Cameron describes. In addition, I really enjoyed the expansion of the awesome magical system featured throughout the series. Much of this is because of a world-changing event that increases the importance and power of magic, but it is also because Aranthur is becoming much more proficient with his magical abilities. Not only does this result in a deeper understanding of this universes magic systems work, but you also get to see some much more destructive and elaborate displays of magical ability, which results in some very impressive sequences throughout the book. I personally found the authors inclusion of a series of magical roadside booby traps to be particularly clever, and I also had a lot of love for one of the scenes at the start of the book where the protagonist speeds up his own body in the midst of a battle, ensuring that everyone, except a few opponents, is fighting in slow motion in comparison to him. I found all of this to be extremely cool and I really appreciated all the amazing new features that Cameron was able to fit into Dark Forge.
Like the first book in this series, I ended up checking out the audiobook version of Dark Forge, which is narrated by Mark Meadows. The Dark Forge audiobook has a run time of just under 17 hours, which is a couple of hours shorter than Cold Iron, making for a quicker listen, and dedicated listeners can get through it in a short amount of time (I know I did). I had an amazing time listening to this audiobook, and I really think I followed this novel a lot more closely by listening to it. I was also really glad that Meadows returned to narrate this second novel in the series. Meadows’s voice serves as a perfect match for Cameron’s unique writing style and he did a fantastic job moving the story along and bringing the various characters to life. As a result, I would really recommend the audiobook format for anyone interested in checking out Dark Forge and it ended up being an excellent way to enjoy this outstanding book.
Dark Forge by Miles Cameron is an impressive and captivating fantasy read that presents the reader with an intense adventure that follows a relatable and likeable protagonist. Filled with all manner of action, great side-characters and clever world building, Dark Forge serves as an amazing second entry in the Masters & Mages series, and I had an exceptional time listening to it. This book gets a full five-star rating from me and I really need to check out the final entry in the series, Bright Steel, next year.