THE FORGETTING MOON by Brian Lee Durfee (Five Warrior Angels #1)
Rob B · Aug 2nd, 2016 · 2 Comments
When a young boy, Nail, is orphaned and taken in by a gruff and mostly silent warrior named Shawcroft, you might have an idea that Brian Lee Durfee’s The Forgetting Moon is going to tread into the waters of Epic Fantasy. You’d be mostly correct, but the routes he takes are down some of the more shadowy, grim, and darkest roads traveled in this popular sub-genre of Fantasy. To say that The Forgetting Moon leans on the shady grimdark side of fantasy would be an understatement, but nothing else about Durfee’s epic novel (and saga) is understated.
Durfee introduces Nail and his friends/peers as they are on the cusp of becoming adults in the land of the Five Isles, specifically the village of Gallows Haven in the unconquered kingdom of Gul Kana. Nail lives a hard life and gets few answers about his family, his parents, or why his guardian has him constantly in the mines when he would rather be what amounts to in this world as a naval officer. Since this is an epic, EPIC fantasy, Durfee juggles multiple plot-lines and points of view. In the same fashion that George R.R. Martin broke the chapters into different character’s points of view, so does Durfee. In addition to Nail, we have Princess Jondralyn, sister of the (Mad) King Jovan, perhaps one of the few truly Good characters in the story and much more than the “Beautiful Princess” many expect her to be; Tara, the younger sister of king and Jondralyn’s who is reluctantly drawn into a scavenger hunt in order to save her poisoned cousin Lawri; Ava Shay, a young girl and target of Nail’s affections taken prisoner by an invading army and Gault, a weary knight from the invading army.
About that invading army, they are led by Aeros Raijael, who thinks he is the second coming of God’s son. His army is led by some extremely devious and malicious cruel generals; Spades, who was like a female version of Ramsay Bolton; stood out the most. At one point Aeros commands the arms and legd to be cut off a general of Gul Kana (and the man to whom Nail wanted to pledge his service) and have the man pushed around in a cart just so he can send a message back to his kingdom. Though one of the crueler acts depicted in the novel, it is far from the only element of cruelty.
OK, there’s a lot to process in this novel, from the grand scope (a man thinking he’s a savior reincarnated), magical objects including the titular axe the Forgetting Moon, a mad king on the brink of sanity; a young ‘farm boy orphan,’ and a young woman looking to upend the gender norms of her world. The cosmology and mythos Durfee has packed into his world is expansive and impressive, though at times it feels a little overwhelming. The plot at times was slowed down by the weight of the world-building and there could have been a little less revealed here in this big first volume (700+ pages) of the series.
Durfee did seem to give fairly equal time to both Jondralyn and Nail, and while the rotating points of view provides each of the characters the opportunity to be the protagonist of their own storylines, the character of Jondralyn (Jon for short) was the one I found most intriguing. She lives in fear of her older brother, fear of his growing paranoia and psychosis, his cruel treatment of her, and his inability to rule. Jondralyn is training in secret (from her brother, or so she thinks) with the dwarf Roguemore, Hawkwood, a man who was initially sent to assassinate her and an imprisoned gladiator named Squireck. In fact, I would love to see a story focusing just on Jon and her circle of supporting characters.
In the preface to the book, Durfee calls out Tad Williams and George R.R. Martin as influences. The influence of both writers/storytellers is writ clear in the narrative. Readers familiar with both may see some parallels between King Jovan and the Storm King from Tad Williams’s Memory, Sorrow and Thorn or Mad King Aerys from Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Aside from those comparisons, the world-building in general is quite robust and the rotating POVs works quite well, too. I have to say; however, I think I admired what Durfee was doing more than I enjoyed it. His imagination and storytelling comes across quite impressively, but the grimdark and unsavory elements made it somewhat difficult to fully enjoy the narrative, if that makes sense. There is a teeny-tiny glimmer of optimism, so I hope that Durfee is able to build on that in the next volume(s) of the series.
I also have to complement the cover, which (in all the best ways for me) looks like it could easily be the cover of a heavy metal album. Richard Anderson has been creating fantastic images for genre book covers over the past few years and this one is no different in its’ power to draw the eye. What makes it even more “metal” is the shiny gold text of the title.
Readers who enjoyed Michael R. Fletcher’s Beyond Redemption (review) or Mark Lawrence’sBroken Empire will likely find much to enjoy and a world in which to immerse themselves.
© 2016 Rob H. Bedford
Hardcover, 775 Pages
Saga Press, August 2016
Review copy courtesy of the publisher