Review: “The Forever King (The Scalussen Chronicles #1)” by Ben Galley

the forever king by ben galley book cover. cover from goodreads, background phot from adam chang on unsplash
Original background cover photo credit: Photo by Adam Chang on Unsplash

A whimper. A garbled moan of a half-prayer to an absent god. That was the sum total of the last words the woman was allowed before the noose slid tight against her pallid neck.

The Forever King, Chapter 1 opening

Author: Ben Galley 
Publication Date: December 1st 2020
Publisher: BenGalley.com
Genre: Fantasy
Find it on: Goodreads

Many thanks to the author, Ben Galley, for providing a physical ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. And for his patience 😉

Synopsis

Revenge loves company.

Mithrid Fenn wants nothing to do with magick. Magick is a curse word, banned by the vast Arka Empire and punishable by death. Its purging has finally brought peace to war-torn Emaneska. Only a stubborn rebellion, led by the warlord Outlaw King, raids and pillages the empire’s northern fringes.

To cliff-brat Mithrid, this is an age of tranquility and childhood games. That is until an illegal spellbook washes up on her shores, and she finds herself thrust into a war she never knew existed.

Now hunted by daemons and mages, she is dragged inexorably north to Scalussen and its rebels fighting doggedly to preserve a memory of freedom. Mithrid holds no such ideals. She fights for revenge and nothing nobler. If spilling blood means helping the Outlaw King, then so be it. Even if it means all-out war.

———

The Forever King is the first book in a new trilogy – The Scalussen Chronicles – set in the dark and nordic world of The Emaneska Series. A breathless and emotional tale of revenge that crisscrosses a vast world, The Forever King is an epic fantasy ideal for fans of Joe Abercrombie, Steven Erikson and Mark Lawrence.

From Goodreads

Review

Book Content Warnings: execution, animal death, alcoholism, death of a parent, physical abuse, rape (alluded), infertility

The Forever King by Ben Galley is an epic kick-off to his newest fantasy trilogy continuing in the same world as his popular Emaneska series. The ‘Outlaw King’ (or ‘Forever King’ as his growing crew of supporters call him) carefully builds his rebellion forces in the icy outskirts of the empire, solidifying their plans to topple the kingdom’s oppressive leadership and create a world where magick can be practiced freely. Their forces are comparatively slim but they have one weapon that emperor Malvus does not: a small number of the Written – a dwindling group of mages who have the potent magick of spellbooks inscribed on their skin. They are remnants of a dying art no one has since been able to reproduce. But Mavlus dabbles desperately in dark forces and produces something terrifying. Will the Forever King’s rebellion forces outmaneuver the heavy arm of the empire, or will Malvus’ efforts give him the edge to crush the rebellion once and for all?

‘None of us wanted a life spent fleeing or fighting,’ Modren replied, stepping closer. ‘None of us asked for it. It was forced upon us by Malvus’ betrayal of our freedom. We Scalussen survive, endure, and we stand up to fight back. That is all we are left with. That is our duty. The great war for magick is coming, and soon everybody in Emaneska will have to choose their side. If you want to spill Arka blood, then we can promise you that. Victory over the empire, possibly, if the gods are with us.’

The Forever King, p101

The story opens dramatically with a description of a hanging execution for the crime of dealing in magick. This scene instantly impresses upon readers the extent of persecution and severe punishment doled out by the empire to rid itself of ‘villainous’ magick, though we don’t yet grasp what magick is. Our first of two main characters, a mysterious hooded man, witnesses the execution in the city and goes about talking to the locals trying to garner information. I was instantly hooked by his introduction and the mystery of his task, but I’d warn you not to get too attached right away. His appearance is jarringly brief and chapter two transitions to a new scene entirely, placing us in a small town to greet the second main character, Mithrid. This second chapter is a stark contrast to the first. Although young Mithrid copes with an abusive father and other burdens, her childhood is more or less content and the mood is temporarily lighter. That is, until one day while joyfully combing beached ship wreckage, Mithrid and her friends stumble upon a mysterious book. The subsequent havoc that ensues eventually brings our two main characters together and gradually introduces the Outlaw King. From there on much of the story is fraught with training, recruitment, and preparation for the foretold battle. Overall I’d categorize this as a grim, war-oriented fantasy.

‘That girl is…’ Again, Farden’s words trailed off as he searched for better ones. ‘A force we never expected, yet one I’m immensely glad we have on our side. But she scares me. She is dangerous, Modren … If she grows stronger, loses herself, she could render us all powerless in the middle of battle.’

The Forever King, p377. Redaction added.

There are many characters we follow through the story. I was happy to see we are privy to perspectives from both the rebel and empire sides. It was enjoyable to see the plot progress, character dynamics, and decisions from both groups, though the majority perspective is from the rebel side. Although Mithrid is one of the main characters, unfortunately I never quite warmed to her. She came off quite thorny and untrusting through most of the book, even if it is justified. On the other hand (and possibly a reflection of my more chaotic side), my favorite characters were Loki, the trickster god meddling in human affairs, and Towerdawn, a wise Old Dragon. I loved the unpredictability Loki brought to the story, and delighted in the mental inner-eye candy of a huge, majestic dragon standing counsel in the war room.

Spending a few more moments in solitude to shake the echo of the god’s voice from his head, Farden took one final look at Irminsul, scowled, and began the task of war.

Killing gods could wait.

The Forever King, p355

In fact, to me what makes this story stand apart in the genre is its plethora of fantasy creatures. There’s nearly any creature you can think of – vampires, dragons, daemons, gods, minotaurs, lycans, and more. With each scene the group of fantasy creatures kept expanding and I loved every new development! The dynamic scenery of the story was also a huge draw. Readers travel from small villages to high seas, to icy landscapes, and on the backs of dragons. If you’re looking for an excellent book to escape into – and who isn’t these days – The Forever King delivers!

Ben Galley’s writing was solid through the book, skillfully toeing the line on a per-scene basis between propulsive and descriptive styles. The plot was generally well paced, though I found it lagging a bit through the middle during the war preparation parts. Readers are rewarded, however, with a massive, epic battle and an explosive conclusion. This 600 page epic fantasy read has payoff well worth the lengthy build up.

This fiery fantasy was a great read and solid opening for the current series. With so many magical elements and plot threads it feels like we’ve only just scratched the surface of this expansive fantasy world. There’s so much left to explore and this first book leaves a great set up for the second book in the series, Heavy Lies the Crown. My hope is that we get even more fantastic fantasy creatures and immersive scenery, and I have faith Ben Galley will deliver!

Meet the Author

ben galley author photo

Ben Galley is a British author of dark and epic fantasy books who currently hails from Vancouver, Canada. Since publishing his debut Emaneska Series, Ben has released the award-winning weird western Scarlet Star Trilogy and standalone The Heart of Stone, the critically-acclaimed Chasing Graves Trilogy, and the new Scalussen Chronicles.

When he isn’t conjuring up strange new stories or arguing the finer points of magic systems and dragon anatomy, Ben explores the Canadian wilds, sips Scotch single malts, and snowboards very, very badly. One day he hopes to haunt an epic treehouse in the mountains. 

Find all of Ben’s books or join his Discord and Patreon at: www.linktr.ee/bengalley

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