The Forever King is the first book in the Scalussen series. It (mostly) follows the exploits of a girl named Mithrid. Mithrid and her people live on the northern edge of the Arka empire, where magic is outlawed by order of the Emperor, Malvus. When an illegal spellbook washes up on the shore and into Mithrid’s hands, she finds herself tangled up in a war against Malvus that The Outlaw King, Farden and his rebellion are waging. Many shenanigans follow.
This was a difficult book to review, for a few reasons. First and foremost, while this is a separate series from the Emaneska series, it takes place after the events of it. I’ve read the first book in the Emaneska series, but never had time to continue, so I had some knowledge of Farden, at least, beforehand. This book makes reference to events and characters from that series on the regular, so if you don’t want to basically know what happens before this series, I suggest reading the Emaneska series first. I think it’s definitely possible to find enjoyment in this series without having read the series before it, but in the end, I feel as though I’ve both spoiled Emaneska for myself, and missed a great deal of important detail.
I do like Ben Galley’s writing a lot. It was well paced and I liked the prose quite a lot. There are some pretty quotable quotes throughout, and lots of action and shenanigans happening, but it took me rather a long time to latch onto the protagonists and care about why they were doing what they were doing. I did eventually get there, about halfway through, and so the last half of the book was far more entertaining than the first half.
It was a very easy audiobook to turn on and listen to for hours at a time. I love this narrator (Matthew Lloyd Davies) quite a bit. Admittedly, I’ve mostly heard him narrate romance novels, so an epic fantasy was a treat. I just love the sound of his voice, so he’s very easy for me to listen to for long periods of time. He did a great job with the characters here, given that there are a lot of them, and there are everything from dragons to demons to give voice to. I think that I enjoyed this book more as an audiobook than I would have in print. During the parts that I was having trouble getting invested in the story, the narration definitely helped keep me listening.
So, all told, I liked it, but I didn’t love it like I expected to. I feel like I would have gotten more enjoyment here had I read the Emaneska series first, as I would have been able to get all the references to it that were sprinkled throughout, and probably would have had favorite characters from the beginning. On its own, The Forever King is an entertaining book that starts an interesting-sounding adventure, but I still can’t help feeling like I missed something important by starting here. 6.5/10 stars.
I have been a fan of Ben Galley’s work for a long time now. Naturally, I was excited when I saw he had made it into the finals this year! (Which is his second time, congrats on that)
The sheer volume of fantastical elements in this book is staggering. There is 0 mistake that this is a high epic fantasy. Magic appears in the prologue (which gives you a bit of history of Emenesaka as well). Magic has been outlawed and it’s not a small infraction, either. You can and will be put to death for it if they catch you. In fact, that’s how the book opens.
I would say that the main character in this book is Mithrid, but she’s far from the only character. Her story sort of kicks things off though, so she’s the one I got used to the quickest. She lived in a backwater village that butts up against the shoreline. From time to time ship wrecks and other debris washed up after a storm and the kids would make a game of picking through the “treasures” before the adults got up. Well, this time it backfired in a big way. A spell book washes ashore and the kids read from it, killing one of them and summoning some dickbag mages — which is the last thing anyone wants. Her village gets thrown into the middle of a magic war and things do not go well at all. Mithrid has had a rough go of it even before she accidently summons mages. Her mother is dead and her father is not a great dude. “Grey” is a kind way to describe the dad. His introduction as a character has him beating the shit out of her so hard she’s checking to see if she still has her teeth.
One thing leads to another, and she bumps into another of the larger POV characters, Farden. I immediately got the feeling that Farden was a “larger” character than was being let on. So, after conferring with Kristen and some other people who have read more of Galley’s works than I have, yep he’s from the first series set in this world. This was a problem for me since it took me a long time to warm up to a character who I probably would have been excited about from the beginning had I read the first series. In this way Kristen and I felt pretty much the same, except she had a slight advantage as I’ve read 0 books from the first series. Farden is something called a Written, a very powerful magic user and there aren’t many of them left. As such, this dude is basically death incarnate for any “normal” person who tries to go up against him. These two are opposites in basically every way, and so I liked that the POVs are so jarringly different there’s no mistaking whose chapter you’re on.
As far as the world-building there are tons of magical elements as mentioned at the start of my review. Centaurs, talking dragons, spell books and the various ways they can be used, cow-sized moles that dig tunnels through the arctic, ships as big as cities, griffons, vampires — the list goes on and on.
So, I’m getting to the part of the review I’m dreading it’s why it didn’t totally work for me. I could tell there were references to times and events set before the book that the main character was involved in. I felt like there was a lot more to him than we got and there was probably backstory missing just because of those vague references. It probably reads like a nice nod to past events for those who’ve read the other books, but it made me feel like I could be missing context. Having said that; I was never confused in the moment during a scene. Reading the first series is not strictly necessary to enjoy this book. I just think my own enjoyment level would have been much higher if I had some background knowledge.
- Plot: 11/15
- Characters: 11/15
- World Building: 12/15
- Writing: 13/15
- Pacing: 11/15
- Originality: 11/15
- Enjoyment: 7/10
Final Score: 76/100 or 7.6/10 for SPFBO