Ice Forged (The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga)
by Gail Z. Martin
Review by Jon Guenther
Orbit Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780316093583
Date: 08 January 2013 List Price $15.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
"The world is ending, the adventure begins..." is the tagline for Ice Forged, the first book in a new epic fantasy series by Gail Z. Martin. This was my first taste of this author's work and I was pleasantly surprised.
Ice Forged is the story of Blaine McFadden, the son of a noble lord who takes up his sword and kills his abusive, miscreant father. While this story might sound like something ripped from the pages of a Freudian textbook, I felt Ms. Martin handled it smartly enough that it made for a very credible and engaging opening. The story then follows McFadden in short-scene style from a trial before the king, to prison (where McFadden is torn from his true love), and into the trip and ultimate exile at the frozen tundra of the Velant penal colony. It is after the passage of time that all breaks loose within the story as the fabric of the world's magic unravels with terrifying and destructive results.
As the author notes in the Extras at the end of the book--a common practice for many Orbit Books offerings (and one I always enjoy)--Ms. Martin explains: "So I'd been playing with the idea of what if magic broke (as it nearly did in the Chronicles books), and what if we had a postapocalyptic medieval world, and what if a world sent its convicts to the northern rim (instead of, in our world, Australia)... and I was off and running." Indeed she was.
One of the most refreshing things to note about this novel was the consistent pace and lean storytelling. Unlike many epic fantasists of today, Ms. Martin doesn't seem content to tell her stories with page after page of useless interior monologues and descriptions. This book has meat behind the plot and an array of very interesting characters but I found the execution therein to be quite savory. Another point of note to the book was the inclusion of character archetypes one wouldn't normally associate with epic fantasies: vampires, for example. The closest series I found to do this kind of thing is Barb and J.C. Hendee's Noble Dead Saga, and it added a fresh perspective that only increased my satisfaction with the cast of characters. The novel also has much going for it from the point of story value: politics, war, love and revenge being chief among them.
I really can't say I found any cons to this book; could be because I was so entertained by the story I managed to gloss over them. And while it can be said no book is perfect, this one comes much closer than many of the fantasies I've read over the years. Gail Z. Martin's style is fast-paced and does not suffer from bloat. There were times I found parts of the dialog went on a bit long, but they were explanatory and added depth and dimension to the world in most cases.
Overall, Ice Forged dazzled me and put the author in the top ten of must-read lists, especially as an example of how to get it right for anyone who might be interested in writing fantasy. However, I think epic fantasy fans will relish Ice Forged and I surmise it will bring you back to more of the same from Ms. Martin when she releases future books in the series. I know I'll be there for the next one.