The Blasted Lands by James A. Moore is the second book in the Seven Forges series, a series that has managed to capture and hold my attention. If you liked the first book then you will be happy to know that The Blasted Lands does more of the same, exploring multiple plot threads with some high intensity action set pieces and thought provoking interactions, all while setting things up for the rest of the series.
The story focuses on the increasing tensions between the Fellein Empire and the Sa'ba Taalor, where it seems every action brings these two nations closer and closer to outright war. Through the various viewpoint characters we get to see the escalation of these tensions from both sides, with the bred-for-war Sa'ba Taalor embracing the will of their gods, and the Fellein Empire scrambling to move their citizens out of the death-trap summer palace whilst putting together all the components they need to mount some sort of resistance. The inevitable conflict is beginning to look like a title fight between Mike Tyson and a small child, but the Fellein are not without hope, and if a few of their many contingencies come off, they might stand a chance of survival.
In terms of the overarching story, not a lot actually happens. There are many things going on that are really cool and only help to escalate the tension between the two sides, but there is not a lot of forward progress. This follows almost exactly the formula of the previous book - manoeuvring and positioning of key characters leading to a cataclysmic event at the end - which on its own is a little disappointing and lacking in proper resolution, but when considered alongside the strength of the manoeuvring plot threads it's actually quite interesting. Moore succeeds using this style where others have failed because Moore gives so much to these manoeuvring plot threads, allowing us to become completely invested in what are essentially side quests. I want to know more about Andover's quest to meet the gods of the Seven Forges, I want to know what is buried deep beneath the Blasted Lands, I want to know why Old Canhoon is called the City of Wonders, I want to know what is driving Swech to go rogue, and so much more.
One thing Moore does really well in The Blasted Lands is impart a lot of lore and exposition about this world onto the reader. Through Andover's quest to understand the gift given to him from the gods of the Seven Forges, we get to understand the Sa'ba Taalor and the gods they revere. Through the quest to the Blasted Lands we get to understand the history of this worlds, the destruction of old empires, and the alliances and betrayals that have shaped the world we see in the story. It doesn't feel like a data dump but rather a natural extension of the story, making me forget about the lack of forward progress in the plot as I got all wrapped up in the history of this world.
The Blasted Lands builds on the high standards set by Seven Forges, with Moore continuing to develop his intriguing world and tell his story through some epic action set pieces. Even though I enjoyed this book immensely, it fell victim to the same issue I had with the first book in that all of the plot threads are still open, and the cataclysmic event at the end doesn't resolve anything and only starts up even more plot threads. Both books are missing that satisfying ending because they don't actually end anything, but I can see they are building towards something huge so I will happily continue on this journey to find out what happens next.
Review by Ryan Lawler
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