Paizo, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-60125-743-7
My heart gave a little happy dance when I first realized that the lead character in Josh Vogt’s Forge of Ashes is a dwarf. It is time we give those stumpy creatures more love – humans and elves get so dull after a while, after all. Unfortunately, you know what they say about getting happy way too soon.
Akina Fairingot finally comes home to Five Kings Mountains after a few years of making a living killing things. First, she was a soldier in the Goblinblood Wars, and then she went on to become a mercenary. Well, she and her companion, Ondorum the oread (a human who is born with skin resembling some kind of minerals – oh, just think of him as a half-dwarf, this simplifies things). finally come back here, only to have her discover that her mother is MIA, her brother has gone from pious cleric to drunk buffoon babbling about the evil dwarven god Droskar, and her ex-boyfriend has ingratiated himself into her mother’s favor, taken over the family business, and built likenesses of her all over the place. Yes, that guy is a bit of a stalker. When the stumpy stalker and her brother run off to the Darklands – the underground playground for Drizzt’s evil siblings, some ranting Morlocks, and evil dwarves, among other cool people – Akina and Ondorum have to go after them to sort out the mess and rescue her brother.
My biggest disappointment with this story is just how much of a standard hack-and-slash the whole thing is. I am hoping for some new insight especially into the duergars, but no, the story is all about going from point A to B, killing things and smashing other things along the way. Why set a story in a lesser explored setting, only to turn the whole thing into some substandard transcript of a mediocre tabletop game? I find myself missing the A Paragon of Her Kind arc in Dragon Age: Origins, of which this story feels like a third-rate fanfiction wannabe of, and Shale is so much more interesting in a way that Ondorum wishes he could be.
Oh well, things won’t be so flat if the heroine is interesting. but Akina is an obnoxious kind of one-dimensional all the way. Her default reaction to everything is to snarl and break things, and her anger often seems exaggerated and overblown. Her loathing of her ex-boyfriend, for example, is so over the top from the get go that I can only wonder whether these two have some kind of Blank Page – the Shane Dawson version – episode in the past. Akina’s default reaction is angry-crazy and her mood is repetitive and boring. Ondorum isn’t any better. His vow of silence is amusing for three pages and then it gets old fast. Oh, and he has the hots for Akina, and I wince because I always wince when I try to imagine the physical limitations of their shag times.
At the end of the day, Forge of Ashes lacks nuances. Everything is drawn in stark monochromatic shades, and the characters are all one-dimensional stereotypical bores with limited range of expressions. This book is probably better off in the hands of younger readers who won’t mind that this is basically an unimaginative patchwork of clichés from page one to last.