REVIEW of Oblivion's Forge
This book has an interesting peculiarity in that its greatest strength is also its potential Achilles’ Heel. Williams is in no rush to reveal his Aona to the reader and I rather enjoyed my slow immersion as I started exploring this new world with the three main characters: Roguish Vornen, unfortunate Amathyst and emphatic Jaana. The style reminded me of Williams’ Summer’s Dark Waters- written later but it was the first book by this author which I had read. Reviewing that book I wrote: “We don’t know much about the world. Enough to get by but that is all and suddenly the horizon….is shrouded by veils of mystery.” This pretty much applies to Oblivion’s Forge as well – we catch glimpses of a world from its wilder edges and Williams shows his craft in providing sufficient detail to supply the basis of imagery which the reader is allowed to colour in with their own imagination in spectacularly grim but fascinating places such as the hivelike Culvanhem and grimy Ethanalin Tur-morn. At first all we know is that Vornen, Amathyst and Jaana follow their paths in the same world without much indication as to their topographical presence vis-à-vis the others. Williams is not one for long-winded exposition – he allows a peek here and a glimpse there to be followed by a sudden short realisations before casting us out in the wilderness again. This experience is almost exactly what the characters are experiencing so it rings very true and slowly various puzzle pieces start to come together on various levels: Insight into the motivation of the main characters, a growing awareness of the manner in which the settings are connected with regard to topography and socio-economic factors as well as the dawning realisation that something is rotten in Aona. Rotten to the core.
It is here that the reader starts to gain an advantage over the protagonists because we are allowed to see the collective puzzle pieces whilst they only have access to their own. That leads to an increasing curiosity as well as speculation: in other words, Williams has hooked you but used sparse bait leaving you wanting more and more.
It is this process of assembling puzzle pieces that is a driving strength of Oblivion’s Forge . In order to meet the reader’s increased appetite to discover more about Aona Williams starts introducing secondary characters and suddenly we are released; free to move from place to place - including the ‘civilised’ cores of Aona - to witness more and more elements of a world which seems to be unravelling even as we begin to understand it. This is clever writing; these new perspectives drive the reader along faster and faster in the process of discovering a wider Aona and there is a sense that things are beginning to merge; brooks rushing headlong to join streams which start to converge into rivers. On those rivers, however, the three main characters have maintained their slower meandering course which means that towards the end of the book there is a need to shift gear which makes for a somewhat erratic narrative pace. That is the potential Achilles’ Heel of Oblivion’s Forge though Williams pulls it off because it fits into the context of the manner in which truths are revealed – not by means of a helicopter view provided by a handy news summary but through careful shifting through available facts and intriguing clues. That is made possible by the protagonists. Although these are distinctly different from each other they all share the determination to figure out what is going on and as a reader I felt I shared their tenacity in this. Williams is a master of exposition and I imagine him grinning evilly at the reader’s eagerness to put all the puzzle pieces together to satisfy yearning curiosity. In that Oblivion’s Forge ends with the reader fully committed to move to the second book of the Aona series: Secret Roads. My main complaint would be that my curiousity is far from satisfied; I want more Aona but I suspect that Williams, like any author, could only experience delight at that particular grumble.
All-in-all Oblivion’s Forge is a must read for those searching for a fresh approach to fantasy. The harsh realities of Aona and Williams’s nitty-gritty style should appeal to readers tired of formulaic sterile elvish splendour, brave new worlds and flawless heroes. This stuff is real and I intend to return to Aona’s moody underbelly and stark austerity as soon as I can.