The Forgetting Moon by Brian Lee Durfee is a big book. The ARC I read weighed in at 777 pages. Massive. Been a while since I've toted a book around with that much heft. I drove my wife crazy shoving it into the swim bag en route to her dad's house with the kids. Being an titanic epic fantasy, I read at a slower pace, to make sure I didn't miss anything and got everything I could out of it. One of the things I "do wrong" as a reader is reading too fast sometimes and missing important details. I didn't want to do that with this book. The Forgetting Moon is a great throwback to the late 80s/early 90s brand of fantasy while appealing to the ever present grimdark aesthetic that is so popular these days. It's like Durfee used the spices of 80s/90s fantasy while cooking something decidedly contemporary. It made the book infinitely enjoyable and when I sat down to read it, I read it in big sweeping chunks.
The Forgetting Moon starts with a familiar story: an orphan with a mysterious background raised by a grumpy mentor type in a backwater town then expands to a wider, vastly more complicated world. Durfee navigated this better than it sounds as there is some purpose to this other than strict adherence to the tried and true rules of fantasy writing. Durfee mixes the typical hero's journey story with the political intrigue that we've come to expect from our modern epics and he does it well. There are parts in the plot that get herky-jerky, almost like the idea came up all of a sudden in the writing and he couldn't ignore what he was doing, but it doesn't slow down the story at all. (I'm going to talk about this a little later on because of a very specific reason.)
The world building is amazing in this book. Durfee nails it on so many levels. The names alone worked on multiple levels for me. Names are important to me. They have to make sense and the names in Durfee's world make sense, The Five Isles is a living breathing world that is simple and complex at the same time. I'm guessing there are some roots in RPG settings in this world. His world is small despite the largeness that he's created and the constructs of that world work well. Orders of knighthood, secret societies and an terrifying order of assassins mingle together in a dangerous world that isn't specifically like anything we've seen before but is familiar enough that we're comfortable with it. In a lot of ways, his world is very old school and it worked for me. I wanted more of the world at large since the Five Isles seemed very, very isolated despite the implied epicness of the world.
Durfee's done something in the world building that's at the core of the basic conflict in the story that I adored. He's created an pseudo-Christian fantasy religion that works so well. It drives massive portions of the plot and is somehow appropriate in this day and age. I'm not a big religion in fantasy guy. I despise the "God/s on Speed Dial" method of story telling that is so prevalent in epic fantasy and Durfee avoids that while really driving home some thematic concepts about religion, faith and even Christianity. (Yeah, I'm as surprised as you are that this is coming up in this review.)
Durfee's characters are typical of epic fantasies, but well drawn and interesting interpretations of the tropes we know and love. (If you've read my reviews, and why haven't you, you know that I am a huge fan of using tropes!) But the interesting thing he does is talk, outright, about the roles these characters have to play in the story. I love this and think it's an interesting way to go. Our main characters aren't confined by the tropes that define them but they are comfortable in them and Durfee is deft as using them. (Tell me Prince Jovan isn't a combination of Derek Crownguard and every douchy 80s movie rich kid villain.) Some of the secondary and tertiary characters are a little cardboardy, but that's more out of necessity of the narrative than Durfee's skill as a writer. There are some character wobbles that frustrated me and occasional inconsistencies that were noteworthy, but not distracting.
The plot moves along, clicking into place along the way as we begin to see how these different threads weave together into one tapestry (if you'll pardon the metaphor.) There are a few places where I needed to review something from a previous POV chapter, but that's more me than the story. The end comes in a torrent where I was scratching my head at some of the twists and turns that occurred. I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about that method of story telling, but it works for the story and what Durfee tries to do. And let me say, these did not diminish my enjoyment of the book at all. I loved it.
Durfee oscillates between different voices too that help make the story move along. The Tala POV reads like an intense YA book while Nail reads like a typical epic fantasy narrative and the soldier POVs are as good as anything out there. The only POV I found troubling was Jondralyn. It felt kind of all over the place, but I kind of chalked that up to the way her character was.
My only "complaint," and it's a funny one (trust me, you'll laugh), is how many elements of my own book, WINTER'S DISCORD, this shares. Orders of knights, a nation of refugees, archetypes and secret societies all play major roles in my book. It gives me some optimistic in that I must be close. I believe that Brian (I'm be conversational here) has described his book as heavy metal fantasy and I'd say that's accurate. Well if I can indulge, using Metallica, THE FORGETTING MOON is MASTER OF PUPPETS then WINTER'S DISCORD is THE BLACK ALBUM. Anyway.
THE FORGETTING MOON is a terrific, throwback debut epic fantasy that doesn't reinvent the wheel but rather gives it an electric guitar and pound drums soundtrack. It's clearly going to wind up in my end of year Best Of list. I'm looking forward to THE BLACKEST HEART.
(An ARC was provided by the author.)