Hugo Negron has treated us with an exhilarating end to a major story arc in this third volume of Forging of a Knight. In this epic volume, Qualton, the titular knight of the series, and a band of the world's greatest heroes(well, one world at least . . .), set out to prevent Shaz of Those That Stand in Shadow from obtaining the power of a greater evil after a warning from an unlikely ally(ish). The mission takes them to an entirely different world, and pits them against the greatest trials and tribulations they have ever faced.
Negron continues to write some of the most exciting fantasy action scenes I've seen from any author, brilliantly composed with the tendency to suck you into the action like a triple A blockbuster movie. The returning characters(Qualton, Jesepha, Cassandra, Aurelus, and a couple others) are well written and for the most part gain even more depth in this volume. These are definitely the characters we've grown to know over the previous books, showing no hints of becoming watered down or reduced to nothing more than simple plot devices as some authors allow their characters to do over the course of epic series.
The general story lacks the depth of the preceding volume(Rise of the Slavekeepers), but I think the reason is simply because this is what the previous two books was building towards. There's a couple surprises thrown in here and there, but for the most part the book is straight forward, at times reading like an epic fantasy road movie(hmm . . . that makes two movie comparisons now).
The world is, as always, brilliantly detailed and developed, the strange, wondrous, and ofttimes dangerous prison planet of the Mah Lahkt vivid and breathtaking. I'm fairly certain Hugo Negron's imagination has no boundaries, the lands and the creatures who inhabit them endlessly creative.
Although this book easily deserves the five stars I've rated it, I do have a few small quibbles. Looking at the primary hero, Qualton, and the primary villain, Shaz, I feel that the story presents as an almost too perfect display of good versus evil. Shaz has absolutely no redeeming qualities. Yes, he's evil. Yes, he's kind of insane. But it would be nice if he had a little more depth . . . a gray area, if you will. The same goes with Qualton being a little too good. I in no way feel that he should be written as an antihero(as seems to be the current trend with fantasy protagonists), but it would be nice to see him swayed towards the darker side a little more, to see his values and honor truly put to the test. I'd love to read a scene and be surprised by what actions he takes to reach an end.
Other than that, I was slightly disappointed that Glaive was relegated to a single scene early on in the story. To the best of my understanding, the next book will bring him back to the forefront, his tiny part in this book serving to set up his story in it, but he's such a great character that I sorely missed him in this adventure. Oh, well, new characters Tarkanus and Finbar offer plenty of comic relief!
Overall, this is a more-than-worthy end to a major story arc, and it leaves several interesting threads that I am eager to follow into future volumes. If you haven't read any of the books in this series, you need to start from book 1, and I urge any fans of swords and sorcery fantasy to do just that. For those following this series, you don't want to miss out on this action-packed adventure.
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