Hero Forged by Josh Erikson

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I was given the audiobook by the author in exchange for an honest review. I saw that this had been self-narrated, and boy can that go so wrong so fast. However, this was really well done, I honestly would never have known that wasn’t “professionally” performed if I hadn’t known up front. The voices were well executed, they were distinct but light, consistent, and not overly cartoonish.

I didn’t read the blurb so I didn’t know what I was getting into with this one, so all of it came as a pleasant surprise.

Set in modern day, Gabe is a good hearted con artist, he’s past his college years but not by too much (I don’t remember a specific age given) and is a loner by choice, sort of. Relationships become complicated and don’t last long when one partner is out conning people as various personas he’s made up over the years. He has the ability to almost become someone else when he puts on his con act, it’s lead him to develop social reflexes that get him out of dangerous situations. He’s able to read people and know when he’s being played and is an excellent negotiator. Overall, he’s an easy character to like with a charm to him.

Gabe went with a group of cohorts for a ‘job’, but it went horribly wrong. Gabe finds himself in the middle of a sacrificial ritual performed by one of the Umbra known as Gwendyl. He can’t wrap his head around it and he refuses to believe what he’s seeing. Magic isn’t a thing in this world, his world is just like the ‘normal world’ with no hint of supernatural anything. He watches as one by one his ‘friends’ throats are slit, and then raise back up – except they aren’t his friends anymore, they’ve been altered. The rest of the group have been possessed by the Umbra and are now subservient to Gwendyl.

Gwendyl has been trapped in the Ether, or the ocean of life and creation that reality sits inside, it’s a lonely boring place with no real boundaries or timescale. She’s managed to come back to Earth for the first time in 500 years and is under the impression the world is in danger. She believes that forces greater than her own are determined to annihilate all life on Earth, and only she and her husband can ‘save’ the world…. by enslaving it. I kind of liked the take on lesser evils vs greater evils and the twisted ways villains can see themselves as heroes. She is preying on humanity, killing them and stealing their life’s essence, and raising people from the dead newly possessed with more Umbra. She wants Gabe’s body to be her husband’s new vessel, who is still trapped in the Ether. When she gets to Gabe and performs the ritual, however, Gabe is able to push out the Umbra spirit… almost. After the ritual, Gabe is linked to her husband, but not possessed by him, but she didn’t know that at the time. With quick thinking, Gabe is able to talk his way out of her presence and starts to head back home. There’s a complication though, during the ritual he becomes bound to a succubus.

Heather was once one of his cohorts, one he was being kind of flirty with, actually. Now she’s risen again in front of his eyes and telling him that she’s bound to him for life. She’s essentially enslaved – she must always tell him the truth, and protect him from harm at all costs. She doesn’t want that though, she wants to be free. They strike a deal that he will try and learn how to set her free, the problem is he has no magical ability, and to break the bond requires magic on his end. While they figure that out she fills him in on the world he never knew existed, and tries to help him rid himself of the husband Umbra, Acamana. Acamana, is an ancient and powerful entity, more akin to a god than a minor demoness like Heather. He’s known as the god of lies, deception, and evil, not exactly something you want hanging around your brain. The problem is, they have no idea how to sever the link, and no one else seems to either. All the while, Gwenlyn is super pissed off and sending demons and monsters after the two of them leading to a lot of mayhem.

I liked Gabe, he was easy to relate to, he was smart and at times funny. Sometimes I was annoyed at how long it took him to accept what was happening around him, although I don’t know how much better I would be doing in similar circumstances. He has a lot of loyalty when he’s invested in a person, despite his dad being a shithead, Gabe still takes care of him now that he’s disabled and unable to care for himself. Even though there’s a lot of danger all around him, he’s reluctant to run to a different city because he doesn’t know what would happen to his dad. He also develops a complex relationship with Heather, whom he doesn’t trust much considering she’s a demon – but she’s so atypical for what one would expect a demon to be, he can’t help but become attached. There are many instances where running away would have been the ‘smarter’ choice, but he stuck around to help Heather out of some deep shit at risk to himself.

I really liked Heather, she was a character that just kept getting more layers as the book went on. She’s a succubus, so naturally, she’s a little flirty and uses sex appeal to get her way. Books with a lot of male gaze annoys the shit out of me, so the fact that this one pulled off a succubus without being laced with male gaze is awesome. Instead of talk of boobs and ass, she is often described in scent, (perfume, vanilla, flowers) or visual images that have meaning to the main character, like the place where he had his first kiss. She’s simply described as beautiful beyond comprehension and having a hypnotizing magical force rather than focusing on descriptions of her physical attributes. She has no ill intent either, for being a succubus she’s a pretty laid back gal, all she really wants in life is to eat good food, drink good drinks, and have a lot of sex. She is a succubus after all.

There were all sorts of magical elements in this book, gods, demons, vampires, hobgoblins, Hell Hounds etc. It was introduced slowly at first though, it was just the Umbra and the Ether in the beginning and then everything else was added in slowly. Umbras have been around since before written history but they’ve been concealed through powerful glamours allowing them to blend into society unnoticed. They can come in all shapes and sizes and rely greatly on collective human belief. The more an Umbra is worshipped and thought about, the more powerful they can become.

The writing in this was pretty solid, and it came through very well in the audiobook. I really think this is one of those books that would read better as an audio because of the emotions and voices cast to the characters, it was all well done. The pacing was even and consistent with a tension that built up slowly through the book. The world building expanded when it needed to, but without a lot of info dumps and there were alternating periods of downtime and action scenes. This had an overall lighter tone, despite all the doomsday threats going on the main character was a very ‘light’ as was Heather which balanced things out.

Audience:

For people who like:

  • Con artist characters
  • easy to like characters
  • urban fantasy
  • audiobooks
  • vampires, succubus, Hell Hounds, gods
  • action scenes
  • lighter in tone

Not for people

  • who don’t like cursing

Ratings:

  • Plot: 12.5/15
  • Characters: 12.5/15
  • World Building: 13/15
  • Writing: 12/15
  • Pacing: 12.5/15
  • Originality: 12.5/15
  • Personal Enjoyment: 9/10

Final Score: 84/100

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