Following the stellar writing of Seven Forges, James A. Moore returns to the same epic world in its follow up, The Blasted Lands. Moore paints a eerily gorgeous landscape which is ripe for mischief and adventure. Delving even deeper than the first installment, Moore tells a multi-layered tale of friend and foe, nation against nation.
The Empire of Fellein is in mourning. The Emperor is dead, and the armies of the empire have grown soft. Merros Dulver, their newly-appointed – and somewhat reluctant – commander, has been tasked with preparing them to fight the most savage enemy the world has yet seen.
Meanwhile, a perpetual storm ravages the Blasted Lands, and a new threat is about to arise – the Broken are coming, and with them only Death.
Having loved the series debut, I was thrilled to read The Blasted Lands. Moore had created a such a fully realized world that I wondered how he was going to top it. In true storytelling fashion, Moore let the civilizations evolve. He takes a different perspective than Seven Forges, stepping away from characters slightly, as if zooming out so we can see a larger picture. He uses character struggles to develop things such as religion and culture, immersing us into every bit of life. This is most evident as we see multiple sides to the same story or more accurately, the same war.
While very few characters were new, Moore highlighted different people, allowing for a slightly different tone. Whereas Seven Forges showed us the experience and jaded view of Merros Dulver, The Blasted Lands finds him playing a smaller role that is full of curiosity. This curiosity is carried through with Andover Lashk, a minor player in the last book which becomes forefront. This enables the tone to be one filled with doubt, wonder, and finally acceptance.
There are few books where I really think characters evolve and The Blasted Lands is one of them. Though some things are predictable, such as the pregnancy of the female love interest from Seven Forges, Moore shines a different spotlight on them. In the case of Swech being pregnant, we find out her conviction to her faith and job as a warrior by her reaction. That being said, Moore knows when not to linger on an uninteresting plot point, instead leading the story to where it matters. He does this by checking in with characters such as Merros who is finding his footing as General and Desh Krohan, a right hand man who must readjust his place in the world when the one he serves dies. The story moves when we follow two formerly supporting characters. The first, Nachia, allowed herself to flourish as an empress despite impending war. The second, Andover, quickly becomes my favorite character as he evolves from an insecure mess to a man who immerses himself in another culture and finds his place in the world.
From living mountains to the secret behind the veils of a nation, Moore pushes and pulls the story through questions and answers, keeping the reader on their toes. For me, The Blasted Lands is more immersive and thrilling than some of the fantasy masterpieces. Moore shapes a story which appeals to fans of all types, showing how fantasy can be a grand equalizer. The Blasted Lands does this and more, making it not just a sophomore book in a series but a genuinely good story.