A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
The Forgotten War by Howard Sargent is set in Tanaren, a country cursed by war, filled with ferocious beasts and inhabited by elves, humans, marsh folk and mages. The novel describes with chilling bluntness a country ravaged by conflict and invasive magic through four different perspectives. First we have Morgan, a veteran of multiple battles and a cynical widower tasked with a mission that could well lead to unpleasant deaths for him and the rest of his team of misfit warriors and academics. Next we’re introduced to Cheris who is a young and worryingly talented sorceress about to leave the island of mages for the first time since she arrived there as a little girl. Ceriana Hartfield is the youngest daughter of a noble family who manages to turn her life upside down by walking along a beach. And lastly we have Cyganexatavan (also known as Cygan), one of the elusive men living in the northern marshes (who give each other ridiculously long names), newly perturbed by the reappearance of an ancient species that threatens to wipe out their civilisation.
One of the first things I noticed about The Forgotten War is that, despite the daunting number of names and places to remember, it was very easy to carry on reading after a break and still remember who everyone was: a rare quality in fantasy fiction these days. The sheer size of this novel, and its tiny font, were intimidating, but after three months of dogged reading the ending was so worth the time it took to read. Do not be put off by the challenge of its length, weight and depth: embrace the plunge and dive in.
I was very pleased that this fantasy world didn’t use the clichés that most do. There are no vampires or werewolves, the elves are downright badass and the mages aren’t overdone in the slightest. If anything, this story feels like a realistic description of what life would be like if creatures like that had been part of the Renaissance. Sargent deals plausibly with the racism, culture shock and prejudice of the humans controlling the land about to be overrun. It’s deeply interesting to read such a convincing interpretation of what would happen when ancient elvish tribes are asked to come out from their hidden territories and interact with a grudging human population. Stereotypes in characters are also adeptly avoided; a wide mix of roles are given to both genders. Sargent also avoids the tedious fantasy habit of getting lost in dry politics and humourless interactions between the characters. There are plenty of laughs to be found with nearly every character, which makes the protagonists, and the story, much more real.
Final selling point: some very cool dragons.
Howard Sargent, The Forgotten War (The Book Guild, 2014), ISBN 978-1846249792, £14.95
Holly has been a classroom assistant, child-minder and babysitter for four months, and can now change nappies without blenching.