Forged in Fire
There are some things that I really like seeing in fantasy fiction: unusual but realistic professions; main characters that fit solidly into the real world; and intricate but clearly delineated plots. J. A. Pitts’ Sarah Beauhall books have all of the above in spades. The newest novel, Forged in Fire, expands on the worldbuilding that makes this story so compelling.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Sarah Jane Beauhall, the blacksmith turned dragon slayer, has it all figured out—little things like dealing with the political intrigue of dragons who secretly run our world, and learning to wield the magic that she has been given by none other than Odin, who has been fighting the dragons for millennia. And then there is the matter of coming to terms with who she is…and how to build a life with her partner, Katie.
All these things are forced into the background however when a magic-wielding serial killer starts prowling the Pacific Northwest. And all of his victims have ties to Sarah.
Sarah must unravel the web she finds closing around her as a powerful necromancer and a crazed blood cult known as the Dragon Liberation Front work to tear apart everything she holds dear.”
Ever since I found Pitts’ first novel, Black Blade Blues, I’ve eagerly awaited each new installment, and this one did not disappoint. Forged in Fire directly deals with the fallout from some of the events of the previous novel, Honeyed Words, in a decisive fashion that nonetheless leaves room for future stories. In the process, readers learn more about the enigmatic dragons that secretly live among humans and play a part in the running of our world. This book makes it clear that there is much more going on with the supernatural communities than has been shown before. I enjoyed getting some more background on the non-human cultures, and the ensuing action made for a great read.
On the other hand, there’s not as much of the Norse influence in this novel as there has been in the earlier ones. Because the book started solidly in that mythology, it would be nice if it continued in that same vein. Moving away from that flavor of folklore doesn’t detract from the book, but I have to admit that it was the Norse undercurrent that first drew me to the books. It isn’t one that’s used very often, although it is getting a little more popular.
I mentioned the dragons earlier, and I have to acknowledge one character in particular as being especially well-drawn: Nidhog, the ancient female dragon whom Sarah both fears and respects. Pitts has written her so that you have some sympathy for her and all that she has lived through in her life, but also so that you never forget that she’s prone to psychotic killing rages. This is a character who often looks human, but is completely unpredictable and lives by an entirely foreign set of values. Every time she was on the page, she steals the scene.
As with the other books in this series, the relationship between Sarah and her girlfriend Katie takes center stage quite often. Sarah’s fears and self-doubts continue to put up roadblocks to her closeness with Katie, although some of that seems to be resolving, if slowly. I was, however, a little conflicted on the amount of sex in this book. The greater amount might be because the two women are growing closer and as such, it is appropriate to show that increasing level of closeness. On the other hand, the intimate moments occasionally seemed shoehorned in at odd times. They weren’t badly written, nor were they particularly graphic—I’m just not sure they fit quite as well as they could have.
That’s a minor complaint, though, and not one that I put a lot of weight into. I still get great enjoyment out of reading how these characters interact, and I still feel that they are among the most realistic and down-to-earth fictional characters that you’re going to find in current fantasy stories. I love how so many of the women work with their hands and aren’t afraid to get dirty doing their job. Blacksmiths and farriers fit well into a fantasy setting that includes modern re-enactment societies!
I do hope that Pitts continues with this series. Sarah and her friends are some of my favorite characters, and I’d love to read more of their adventures. Forged in Fire is a novel full of kick-ass women and the kind of grittiness that comes from the earthy influence of steel and stone. This underpublicized series needs more attention, so make this your summer reading choice.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on July 19, 2012.