Konowa Swift Dragon had good reason to kill the Calahrian Viceroy he was meant to protect. The man was a brute, a traitor and most likely even worse than that. He still ended up banished to the Elfkyna forest and the Iron Elves regiment he led was demanded. Alone among the unresponsive trees with only his bengar Jir for company Konowa thinks that things can't get much worse.
He's wrong. For She is stirring, sending out her monsters and her poisonous, hungry trees, and the Red Star has fallen. If her plans come to fruition then things will become unfathomably worse for him, for the Empire, for the whole world.
Konowa is summoned back to the Empire's service by the rebellious elfkynan aristocrat Visyna Tokoy and ordered to find the Red Star before the Shadow Monarch does. The Iron Elves are recommissioned as well, but these are not the doughty, near-legendary elven soldiers that Konowa used to command. Instead they are a band of "louts, thieves, ruffians and wastrels" drawn from the dregs of the army. Still they are Iron Elves now and Konowa is determined to make them honour the name. He'll hone them into the best soldiers in the army, because otherwise every last one of them will die.
Accompanied by the spoilt, arrogant Prince Tykkin, an enigmatic journalist who knows more than she ever plans to write and even the beautiful Visyna the Iron Elves set out to Luuguth Jor. Where the Shadow Monarch and what She has left of the murdered Viceroy wait for them. For the Shadow Monarch knows that they are moving against Her, She has more than one servant in Elyfkyna and Her finger has always been laid on Konowa's fate.
"A Darkness Forged in Fire" is a solid fantasy debut novel by author Chris Evans. It focuses on former professional soldier Konowa Swiftdragon of the shamed Iron Elves regiment. Called into service again to lead a new band of non-elf Iron Elves. The novel mostly follows a military style trek across land as the kingdom he once served moves to defend itself against a growing threat.
Evans takes many of the traditional fantasy elements of elves, dwarves, magic, etc. and mashes it with rifles, cannons and a more modern (vs. traditional fantasy anyway) military structure. As well as having the army partnered with what is the equivalent of a newspaper writer (Rallie, the Imperial Weekly Herald Scribe) - even having short prologue like sections of what citizens of their kingdom would get from the news.
The magic in the story so far seems odd to me. It's very connected to nature (in some ways) and definitely comes off mysterious and powerful, but sometimes I don't quite understand it. The elves also mix into the magic and darkness with some of them (the dyskara) being marked by the Shadow Monarch with black ear tips - the original Iron Elves were made up of this race and had proved their worth despite the mark (up until their final disgrace at least).
The pacing of the book left a little to be desired for me. The characters helped pull it through a bit and not just Konowa, but some of the minor characters that make up some of the 'Iron Elves' unit (some more interesting than the main characters). In the end, there was just not quite enough to hook me into a mad addiction of the series, but it was still a very interesting and well told story.
Readers looking for fantasy that stands apart from the normal fair and might find the flintlock elements add interest to story should check this out. It's a fair debut and chances are get stronger as the series continues. The second book "A Light of Burning Shadows" is out in paperback now and the third book "Ashes of Black Frost" is due out this fall.