Published: 22nd September 2020
Séverin and his team members might have successfully thwarted the Fallen House, but victory came at a terrible cost — one that still haunts all of them. Desperate to make amends, Séverin pursues a dangerous lead to find a long lost artifact rumored to grant its possessor the power of God.
Their hunt lures them far from Paris, and into the icy heart of Russia where crystalline ice animals stalk forgotten mansions, broken goddesses carry deadly secrets, and a string of unsolved murders makes the crew question whether an ancient myth is a myth after all.
As hidden secrets come to the light and the ghosts of the past catch up to them, the crew will discover new dimensions of themselves. But what they find out may lead them down paths they never imagined.
This is a sequel which contains every bit as much magic and mystique as the book that preceded it. On every page, the reader is afforded a glowing insight into the vibrant imagination of Roshani Chokshi, who effortlessly weaves together words that bring characters and settings to life, immersing you in her vivid historical fantasy world.
There are ideas aplenty here, with the emphasis falling heavily on expanding the Order of Babel that we were introduced to in The Gilded Wolves, as well as character development. Both of these aspects took the direction of the series into intriguing territory, though sadly I did feel that on this occasion it came rather at the expense of the plot, which does not become truly exciting until near the end.
The story resumes several months on from the tragic event at the end of the previous book, and an emotionally wounded Severin is now setting his sights on acquiring the Divine Lyrics, a book which supposedly gives one power akin to that of a deity. It is said be kept in the Sleeping Palace in Siberia, where the Winter Conclave is also about to take place.
Laila is to act as Severin’s mistress during the mission, but she is hiding a terrible secret of her own that makes finding the Divine Lyrics all the more important. Meanwhile, Zofia is worried for the health of her sister and Enrique, still struggling to rise above his peers and make his voice heard, wonders if his feelings towards Hynos – the patriarch of House Nyx, are being reciprocated.
I liked the premise of this story and the high stakes, which provided it with a greater degree of urgency and suspense. The humour is still there in places and once again we see some clever and fascinating puzzles inspired by mythology, although in the midst of that, some of the finer points of the plot became a little bit convoluted and difficult to follow.
The beginning and the end were riveting, yet despite the fact the writing is constantly top notch, I felt the story slowed down a lot around the halfway mark. A lot of time was spent going back and forth inside the Sleeping Palace and it was hard to keep track of where each of the characters were and what they were doing, so my attention drifted slightly there.
On the plus side, there was some bold character development going on here. The characters are one of the absolute highlights of this series, with many of them being likeable and extremely diverse, as well as sharing a wonderful dynamic. There is a lot to love about them here too, but they are all presented with challenges they must overcome, and that occasionally draws them apart.
The narrative follows the same structure as in The Gilded Wolves, with the entire story told in third person and each chapter focusing primarily on a particular one of the characters. Of them all, it is Severin who has the most interesting progression, becoming more ruthless and calculating and sometimes veering towards paranoia.
This causes friction among the group and indeed I did not like him at times here, especially for his sneering attitude towards Laila, but in the end he does redeem himself in an unexpected way. He still remains a bit of an enigma, though, even with the occasional glimpse into his complex past that we get every now and then.
As for Enrique, I completely empathised with him and his frustrations about not being wholly appreciated. He is the kind of character you just latch on to with ease and I love the enthusiasm that he has for his work, which acts as the perfect contrast to Hypnos, who prefers the comfortable life and makes for an absolute joy to read.
We hardly see any of the cheerful Laila of the first book. Instead she is perpetually on edge and her relationship with Severin becomes increasingly fraught, but despite that I grew to like her more than I did before. My favourite one of the protagonists is Zofia, whose combination of literal intelligence and social ineptitude never ceases to be endearing. She has some great moments here and there, but sadly she was given very little extra development compared to the others.
A short way into the story, three new characters suddenly spring up, and they all spark a degree of curiosity. Delphine was certainly someone I wanted to learn more about, while there is definitely more to Ruslan than meets the eye other than being affable and having no hair. By comparison, Eva was just annoying, although I never knew whether to trust her.
We do not get much of a chance to bask in Severin’s hotel L’Eden this time. The main setting here is Siberia and the Sleeping Palace, which are both beautifully described, giving the book a very acute winter vibe. These details were indicative of the writing, as gorgeous sentences are scattered throughout, some of which make you pause for a moment to appreciate their strength of meaning.
As mentioned before, the plot is not especially captivating at times, but it really does come to life at the end. A lot of unexpected things happen which may leave you in a brief state of shock, but it all plays out very well and leaves a lot of things enticingly uncertain heading into the next instalment. All I shall say is that Blood Forging is a very smart concept.
Overall, this is a book that transports you into a brilliantly crafted world in the company of Roshani Chokshi’s uniquely elegant writing and her mostly adorable group of characters. There may be issues with the plot and certain elements within the story, but it still provides so many things to admire along with a kind of escapism.
A book that delivers on mythology, writing, setting, and in most cases, the characters. The plot was just harder to pinpoint and for me it only really flourished a little at the beginning, and more towards the end.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5