Furnaces of Forge by Alan Skinner

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Furnaces of Forge by Alan Skinner

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Category: Teens
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A second inventive fantasy for the young readers and the curious adults, with another set of journeys into the wilds to explore and counter those who chose to misuse the blue fire.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: December 2009
Publisher: Sibling Press
ISBN: 978-0955726859

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In this sequel, it's almost as you were, except here the mysterious powers of the blue flame are not being used by some outlander arsonist, but have been usurped by two inept young scientists from the Myrmidots, to fuel their industry. We can predict this will prove a bad thing, but the breadth of the journey to capture the flame, and the efforts of all our returning characters to put things right might still be a surprise.

Sometimes you can have an unusual response to a book the reviewing gods have delivered to you. I'll admit a couple of times I looked at the pair of Alan Skinner novels and thought there was no way the quality of the contents would match the cover artwork; the dense text and small font would be dry; and with the first being a rare thing to succeed with, a comedic teenage fantasy as a debut novel, I was not expecting something brilliant.

I was nearly correct, as Blue Fire and Ice, which I have read if not officially reviewed, featured some brilliance among its flaws. It was a pity in my mind that the book set up such a lip-smacking premise (who is doing what, and how, and just WHY?), only to abandon one group of characters for another and send them off on a yawnsome journey quest. Still, I greatly enjoyed the build-up, and there was enough to the Land that was fresh and interesting to keep me with it, and think it deserved four Bookbag stars.

For the sequel, however, there was not any sense of progression. We see more of the industrious Myrmidot life, as the two apprentices try to right a wrong with the mystical flaming stone, before more and more journeying is being done across the world of this series. The baddies come from the same place, don't differ enough in their intent; the landscape does not grow better with familiarity; and the same characters popping from one capital city to regroup, discuss things, remark on their differences, and send themselves out on missions, almost become tiresome.

There is still a strongly inventive author at work here - he does some clever things with his characters, animal and humanoid, which will open the book up to a different response than would something more like straight fantasy. But the gag concerning the Muddles, who get affected by a magical cloud and swap body parts just as if they were in those flip-books that allow babies to give a body-builder a tutu, and a traffic cop swimming trunks, has been done already.

I did want to say this was as good as its presentation, but by the end I have to admit I was not particularly concerned for a third book in the series. There are plenty of nice touches, yes, but Skinner seems to do so much that is outside generic fantasy, without enough of it being above generic fantasy, and the nature of the quests his characters are given did not create a great entertainment for me. Something else I was dubious about - the success of his humour - was something I need not have worried about, for it is a breezy read given due levity in mostly the right places and in the right way.

This will serve as a quietly quirky curio for those who just have to read every fantasy book out there, but it does not build on the merits of the first, to my satisfaction, and I think half a mark more should be deducted if you come to this without the first book under your belt.

I must still thank the kind Sibling Press people for my review copy.

A very different blue flame can be met in the trilogy beginning with Blue Flame by K M Grant. We enjoyed The Comet's Child by John Ward immensely as a recent teen fantasy.

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Buy Furnaces of Forge by Alan Skinner at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Furnaces of Forge by Alan Skinner at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Furnaces of Forge by Alan Skinner at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Furnaces of Forge by Alan Skinner at Amazon.com.

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