The Heart Forger‘s (2018) prequel ended with the young bone witch, Tea, about to march upon the kingdom with an army of corpses and a bevy of monsters to boot. We pick up the story precisely where it was left off with Tea’s shock lover (for those of you who remember the twist ending of The Bone Witch) in tow.
Sticking to the same formula used in The Bone Witch, the narrative jumps between past and present, once more in a style reminiscent of THE KINGKILLER CHRONICLE series. The bard continues to narrate Tea’s march upon the royals in the present day, presenting a very different version to the novice asha (that is, a witch who can wield the dark arts of necromancy) of the past.
Present-day Tea is strong and vengeful, instilling fear into citizens and soldiers across the kingdom. Yet Tea of the past is only just coming to terms with her own skill, still tackling the prejudice against her kind. Prince Kance of Odalia has fallen into an unwakeable sleep, and the heartforger that might’ve cured him is nowhere to be found. Readers will remember his right-hand man, broody Kalen, who has always hated Tea, constantly trying to turn the Prince against her. Set against a backdrop of complicated political alliances and rich worldbuilding, Tea must try and get to the root of the sleeping sickness.
But Tea is also on her own inward journey. Through contact with dark faceless magic users, she learns that the use of her own magic might lead her closer and closer to the dark side. Whilst it’s by no means an original plot line, Tea’s anti-hero descent as she treads the line between good and evil certainly makes for compulsive reading. What’s more, the evidence of the flash-forwards (a.k.a evil Tea marching on the kingdom with a bunch of monsters) gives us some clue as to how the whole temptation of evil debacle turns out.
Once again the side cast is a delight to read. The sardonic Fox, Tea’s recently undead brother, is back with his dry charm, still making quips with his arm hanging on by a thread. Likh (a firm favourite from The Bone Witch) also returns, posing wider questions about gender stereotypes that will no doubt resonate with a contemporary audience.
Rin Chupeco‘s writing is detailed and descriptive, but by no means overbearing. There is no sacrificing style at the expense of plot here, and it is comforting not to have to expect some of the YA clichés that saturate so many other books in this genre.
The dual storylines of past and present Tea are still somewhat imperfect. There is an imbalance between the two tellings, and it is difficult to assimilate such different versions of our protagonist. Nonetheless, there is undoubtedly a certain tension in waiting to learn how Tea reaches the all-powerful extremity of the young woman she has become in the present-day.
The Heart Forger demands to be read as a sequel to The Bone Witch. The rich worldbuilding and complicated magic system, as well as ongoing plotlines, means it is almost impossible to jump into the series mid-flow, but fans of its predecessor will no doubt delight in the continued telling of Tea’s rise to an all-powerful asha.