A debut fantasy spins standard tropes into a dark, morally complex adventure.
Fearless former “gutter rat” Kyra gleefully steals from the wealthy, while the upright knight Tristam pledges to defend the city of Forge against the marauding Demon Riders. When the charismatic James persuades Kyra to aid the Assassins Guild in their effort to undermine the corrupt aristocracy, the ensuing plots and counterplots strain loyalties and threaten the entire city. Hoary genre clichés are refreshed by nuanced portrayal: Forge appears a typical medieval-ish fantasy city, but it’s rife with oppression and festering resentments; the Demon Riders’ wildcats, the only magical element, feel convincingly alien. Kyra, at first seeming a tiresome rehash of the “thief with a heart of gold” type, has her naïveté ripped away with a shockingly brutal choice that sends repercussions reverberating throughout the story. James, introduced as a charmingly seductive bad boy, loses his romantic appeal with his cynical manipulations. Even Tristam, the most conventionally virtuous protagonist, finds that base methods in pursuit of laudable ends have tragic consequences. Each character must choose between bad and worse options, and not all make the “right” decision. While both Kyra and Tristam achieve redemption (of a sort) by the end, they pay a cruel price—and neither is altogether certain it was worth the cost.
While this volume comes to a satisfying conclusion, thoughtful readers will keep pondering the future of Forge and its people. (Fantasy. 12-18)