We have all read the story before. A group of people join together from various walks of life and backgrounds to journey on a quest. They may have to traverse dangerous terrain, fight off bandits, or avoid pursuit by the forces of evil. The setting itself does not matter, only that this band of adventures embarks on a journey seeking something. But a quest does not just have to a physical matter. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a quest as an act or instance of seeking. It does not state that a quest is just about the travel or that what they seek is a physical object. Oftentimes, the point of the quest is not only to accomplish a mission, but to grow as well. While a character remains in one place, they are static. It is only through embarking on or joining the quest that they can change.
Forged in Fire and Stars is the latest novel from experienced fantasy author Andrea Robertson, and the beginning of a new series in a new land. Before beginning her own new quest with Forged in Fire and Stars, she completed several other series, such as the Nightshade series, as well as a collaboration with another fantasy author. With a sure hand and a clear vision, she has crafted a brand-new, unique world with a distinct lore, including something that helps differentiate the heroine from other fantasy protagonists. With her previous experience, Robertson showed that she knew the rules of fantasy, as much as there are rules to fantasy, as well as mastery over reader expectation. Now, with her latest novel, one images that she decided it was time to do something new.
Forged in Fire and Stars takes place in the kingdom of Saetlund, occupying its own continent on an as-of-yet unnamed world. Fifteen years prior to the beginning of the novel, the neighboring Vokk Empire invaded and conquered the kingdom. Worshipping a rival god to Saetlund’s pantheon, the Vokkans possess a desire to consume and own all things in existence. Saetlund, meanwhile, fell easily. Centuries of prioritizing nobility and hereditary advancement made the nation weak to outside forces. Rather than choosing the best leaders of each generation, the children of kings and nobility rose to power. In doing so, they turned away from their own gods. The only official who kept the gods’ ways was the Loresmith, a blacksmith serving the land and forging magical arms and armor for the Loreknights, Saetlund’s protectors. However, the last Loresmith was killed in the Vokkan invasion, destroying Saetlund’s final defense. Forged in Fire and Stars follows Ara Silverthread, the teenage daughter of the last Loresmith, as she joins a quest to claim her legacy.
Ara is an atypical fantasy protagonist in that she does not serve the same purpose in the plot as other protagonists would. She is not a fighter on the front-lines, she does not wield a sword or a bow. Rather, she is a blacksmith. A very good blacksmith with the potential to channel the power of the gods, but she is no warrior or leader. The roles normally reserved for the protagonist are taken up by the companions who join her in her quest. Further, the Loresmith is forbidden from fighting other than in pure self-defense. Seven striking the first blow is a direct violation of this commandment. Ara may want to fight, but knows the rules and must rely on her friends to take up arms when necessary. She is also the youngest of her group of adventures and, as such, knows how to rely on others when needed. She knows her strengths and weaknesses and, while she still makes mistakes, it is refreshing to see a main character who does not need to be the best at everything.
I mentioned earlier that Forged in Fire and Stars makes it very clear that reason Saetlund fell was due to a focus on hereditary legacy rather than actual competence. It is hinted that the nation used to govern as a democracy or a republic, with leaders changing and the Loreknights being pulled from all classes to best represent the people. But, at some point, a leader decided that their child should rule instead of a voted-upon individual. Despite this, the quest Ara embarks on seems to rely on this classicism, to a certain extent. Her recruiters are Princess Nimhea and Prince Eamon, the twin royal children of the king killed in the Vokkan invasion. While they do wish to liberate the nation, their goal is also to reestablish the monarchy. Nimhea, as crown princess, may say that she wants to return to representative rule once becoming queen, but royal power can be a corrupter. Even Ara’s position of Loresmith is somewhat hereditary. If not for her father being the previous Loresmith, this legacy would not have fallen to her. This only the first novel, so Robertson does not disentangle their motivations yet, but it could make for an interesting character conflict in the future.
In keeping with the focus on hereditary inheritance, Ara the other main characters are all bound to their quest by a legacy, left behind by people no longer among the living. As Lin-Manuel Miranda so eloquently puts it in Hamilton, a legacy is “planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” The people who create such legacies never get to remain and see what becomes of it. Ara’s inherits the legacy of the Loresmith, a god-chosen blacksmith and servant of Saetlund. Nimhea and Eamon inherit a legacy of corruption and classicism, leading to a broken kingdom and a conquered people. Not all legacies are positive things. The only main character not bound a legacy is a character named Teth. A thief and guide whom Ara initially guilts into assisting them, he later comes to believe in Ara and her quest. But he, unlike the rest of the cast, is a true orphan. He has no inheritance, no legacy to take up, and chooses to take up the quest of his own free will. Without providing spoilers, his character arc is very fitting of this fact, although not without irony.
Forged in Fire, at first glance, could be mistaken for a formulaic fantasy novel. It does contain many of the trappings we have seen in other fantasy stories, Robertson does an excellent job of twisting things around and crafting something different, beginning with her choice of Ara as a main character. Not every main character needs to be the hero or the leader of their band. While the quest is Ara’s, it could be said that Nimhea is the one leading them, while being advised by her brother, Eamon. As a blacksmith, Ara’s role is more of support. However, it can something be more fulfilling to act as support rather than trying to take the lead. Forged in Fire and Stars is on the first novel in a new series, so there is still plenty of room for Ara and her friends to grow upon their quest, and does a very good job of setting up conflicts for book two. I will be eagerly awaiting Andrea Robertson’s sequel.
Forged in Fire and Stars can be found in store, online, or wherever books are sold
Total Read Time: 4 days
Next on the List: Peace Talks, by Jim Butcher