Forged in Fire by J.A. Pitts

(2012-04-02)

Sarah Beauhall #3     
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2469-6     
Tor US, June 2012     
(Advance Uncorrected Review Copy provided J.A. Pitts)      
Reviewed by Kathryn A. Ryan          

Sarah Jane Beauhall, the blacksmith turned dragon slayer, has it all figured out—little things like dealing with the political intrigue of dragons who secretly run our world, and learning to wield the magic that she has been given by none other than Odin, who has been fighting the dragons for millennia. And then there is the matter of coming to terms with who she is…and how to build a life with her partner, Katie.

All these things are forced into the background however when a magic-wielding serial killer starts prowling the Pacific Northwest. And all of his victims have ties to Sarah.

Sarah must unravel the web she finds closing around her as a powerful necromancer and a crazed blood cult known as the Dragon Liberation Front work to tear apart everything she holds dear.

 

Set immediately after Honeyed Words, Forged in Fire sits in a perfect place to tie up Sarah Beauhall's hectic year. Despite facing and defeating the same dragon twice, becoming a champion of Odin and having her whole world view changed, she remains resolute. Her friends are still nursing the wounds of their initial fight with the dragon Jean-Paul, whilst also working to maintain vigil over the local area, but the stress and fear multiply the tension. To make matters worse, Sarah's life becomes even more chaotic. The core Black Briar group gain new family members, her relationship with Katie hits a slightly rough patch and she has one of the most powerful and influential dragons breathing down her neck. She must work with her friends, and those whom she does not trust, in order to defeat the next wave of terror that swoops down upon them.

I found this volume to be stronger than Honeyed Words, but perhaps not as strong as Black Blade Blues, the first book in the series. Whereas Honeyed Words served to merely push the story onwards, this novel ties up a number of loose ends but also adds more in order to lead into further books, and I felt this weakened it a little. Sarah spent time discussing and thinking about some problems that arose, but closure never came, and I felt that taking those aspects out and putting them in the upcoming fourth volume, Hearth and Home, would tighten this novel a little.

I must admit I felt the writing style sometimes fell a little flat for me. Whilst it works really well from Sarah's perspective, it felt as though it barely changed for the third-person points of view, and it didn't quite work for me as the tone seemed to be a little odd. The story itself was fairly good, but it suddenly accelerated towards the last hundred pages, which threw me a little. A lot of time was spent laying the ground for the climax, which then seemed to just happen without much of a warning.

However, I found the main strength of the book to be within the more personal moments. For example, I particularly enjoyed the exploration of Sarah's feelings and thoughts, her relationship with Katie and their friends, the addition of some potentially interesting characters (whom I don't wish to spoil), and even just the detailing of the lives of Sarah's friends. We're shown a group of people who are still nursing their wounds, physical or otherwise, and who are getting to grips with a world that's been turned upside down, but who still have their own lives to lead. With this novel,  Pitts once again shows that he has a flair for blending both personal and global stories, each complimenting the other yet one thread never becomes dominating.

To conclude, Forged in Fire is a worthy sequel, but one that will really only appeal to existing Sarah Beauhall fans due to its heavy links to the previous stories. It's a little loose in places, a bit inconsistent in its pacing and tone, but it's still a very enjoyable read if one can overlook the flaws. If the plot seems a little weak or drawn out in places, it's compensated for by the excellent characterisations and inter-personal interactions. I recommend Forged in Fire – and the series, as a whole - to those who enjoy urban fantasy, minority characters and women doing what they do best; kicking butt.

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