The Forever King (Book Review)
by Ben Galley
Fantasy (Epic, Semi-Dark)
5 / 5
A novel that doesn’t feel like it’s over 600 pages long, The Forever King is an enchanting, exciting, action-filled story with an interesting world and fun characters.
The story follows, from the blurb:
“Mithrid Fenn wants nothing to do with magick. Magick is a curse word, banned by the vast Arka Empire and punishable by death. Its purging has finally brought peace to war-torn Emaneska. Only a stubborn rebellion, led by the warlord Outlaw King, raids and pillages the empire’s northern fringes.
To cliff-brat Mithrid, this is an age of tranquility and childhood games. That is until an illegal spellbook washes up on her shores, and she finds herself thrust into a war she never knew existed.
Now hunted by daemons and mages, she is dragged inexorably north to Scalussen and its rebels fighting doggedly to preserve a memory of freedom. Mithrid holds no such ideals. She fights for revenge and nothing nobler. If spilling blood means helping the Outlaw King, then so be it. Even if it means all-out war.”
As someone who doesn’t tend to enjoy the descriptive nature of fantasy, Galley does a great job balancing this with interesting details - I never felt like the scenery was described unnecessarily or for padding. The battle/action scenes are executed with finesse - they move quickly and I enjoyed how his heroes didn’t spend time bemoaning taking someone’s life mid-fight. They enjoy using their powers/techniques and I found that realistic.
While the other characters are interesting, Mithrid really stole the show for me. A firecracker of a young woman with no tolerance for bullshit, her stubbornness, bravery, and sheer audacity made me adore her instantly (and usually I’m not fond of stories featuring teenagers). Her sections were engrossing and it was wonderful to follow her. The subtle LGBTQ+ rep was a nice surprise too, especially in a novel where a love story is definitely not a subplot.
I adored all the fantastical elements. The magic concept was very fun. The bookships … gah! Two of my favourite things (boats and books)! I loved that part so much. The daemons were so creepy and gross but fascinating. The minotaurs!
I loved that the main minotaur was female. So often in fantasy books are we given minotaurs (as a mythological race, which is different from The Minotaur a la Crete) who are male (with the female ones being in the background or not mentioned). Warbringer was awesome.
In fact, one of my favourite aspects was how gender was handled. Unlike most European-based fantasy, we aren’t given a society rooted in patriarchy where we have one or two token women warriors or there is a strong princess or wizardess. This novel presupposes that women are indeed 50% of the population and are just as likely to be warriors, mages, generals, and blacksmiths as the men. In fact, aside from one comment (by the villain) sexism doesn’t even seem to exist (and the comment was more denigrating of sex work than women in general). No women in this book are sexually assaulted to show how bad the villains are, nor is that part of their story. Honestly, EVERY fantasy writer should take note.
There were a few things that kept it from being perfect for me. Because this takes place in the world of a previous series, I did feel like I was missing something when it came to the older main characters. While I never was lost plot-wise, I felt like the new girlfriend at a party with people who have known one another for ten years. While no one was rude or cold, all the inside jokes went over my head. As such, Farden’s story wasn’t as impactful to me as it could have been, and I found him a little bit too brooding. I think some of their fates (whether good or bad) would have meant more to me had I read the other trilogy.
I also wasn’t super into the Loki character. I realize he’s a staple of Nordic mythology, but given I’m also watching the Marvel Loki show at the moment (and loving it), I’m kinda Loki’d out. This didn’t impact my rating, just a comment.
Still, it’s an engrossing, exciting book and I look forward to the second one!
Highly recommended to those who like dark(er) epic fantasy with lots of battles, really fun characters, an amazing amount of gender parity, and a rich fantasy world.