Hel's Crucible Duology

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Into the Forge by Dennis L. McKiernan

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In McKiernanís first books, comprising The Iron Tower trilogy, many references are made to the Great War of the Ban. In the Helís Crucible duology, he goes back to an earlier time in the history of Mithgar to tell the story of the great war. The action begins on a cold winter night, outside the door of miller and Warrow, Tipperton Thistledown. Awakened by the noise of battle between the Foul Folk and a Kingsman, he finds the Kingsman severely wounded. Tip attempts to aid the stricken man and is given a talisman ó a small pewter coin ó and a mysterious command to find Agron. Tip rushes off to find his friend, Beau Darby, another Warrow with healing skills. Unfortunately, they find the Foul Folk have returned in their absence and murdered the injured man. At the same time, the Beacon fires have been lit and the whole village is thrown into a state of turmoil, for the fires are a seldom-used signal for help.

Tip and Beau must decide whether to join with the other villagers and respond to the balefires or to try and accomplish the slain Kingsmanís mission. Believing that the matter must have been urgent, they choose to set off for whoever or whatever Agron may be. Thus begins a quest that will be years in the fulfilling and unfortunately, seems almost as long in the telling.

McKiernan peoples this novel with many of the same types of characters found in his earlier books. There are Warrows, Humans, Dwarves and Elves, along with the various kinds of Rupts and other evil creatures. Some of the Elves will be familiar from his previous volumes (they are certainly long-lived creatures) as will the evil mage Modru. The two Warrows traverse a great deal of treacherous terrain with little more than their wits and sparse supplies, but seem to maintain their sense of humor through even the grimmest of times. Their luck is phenomenal as they are rescued by friendly allies on numerous occasions and survive pitched battles because, yes, this is the beginning of the Great War. As their journey progresses they accumulate a variety of travelling companions. While McKiernanís main characters, Tip and Beau, are fairly well defined, the same cannot be said for many of his supplementary characters. I felt that many of them were completely interchangeable and almost devoid of personality.

The pacing of the novel left a lot to be desired. I found it plodding and lackluster. And, for those who may wonder, to the best of my recollection, there is not a single reference to Helís Crucible in this first volume. I really donít think that McKiernan is a bad writer but I got the feeling that perhaps his heart wasnít in this story. I continued to read it because I found the two main characters to be likeable and some of their predicaments were rather interesting. I just wish the author had paid more attention to the pacing of the plot and the development of the ancillary characters. I donít recommend this novel if youíve never read anything else by McKiernan, but if youíre interested in learning more of the history of this world heís created, you may want to check it out.

Reviewed by: Diane

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Into the Fire by Dennis L. McKiernan

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I wish I could say that the story of the Great War of the Ban improves in the second half of McKiernanís Helís Crucible duology, but it doesnít. It actually becomes rather tedious. It seems as if McKiernan has his characters going around in circles, fighting battles wherever they crop up, purely for the heck of it. This might not be too bad if the characters had had more personality and the journey sequences didnít all feel the same. Not even the territory seemed all that different. And thatís when I found another major flaw. McKiernan has a great looking map on the inside covers of both volumes of the duology ó pity that practically none of the places discussed in the story are on the map. Thereís virtually no way to distinguish where Tip and Beau are at any given time, unless youíve paid an excessive amount of attention to their wanderings.

I donít think Iíll be giving away too much by saying that Tip and Beau accomplish their mission in the first quarter of this novel. After lots of trouble and strife, Tip finally finds King Agron and delivers the coin. In a perfect world, the story would end there. But, it doesnít. Instead it meanders on for another 400 pages. The little band of heroes continues to fight the evil that threatens to take over the world. Their continued journey allows them to meet even more types of folk, both good and bad. And, they do finally get to Helís Crucible, which is actually a location, as well as a turning point in the novel. The battle scenes there are among the best of these two books, probably because McKiernan has finally gotten around to wrapping up all the loose ends and resolving this drab series. I strongly suspect that he may have had a contract he had to fulfill. I know heís written other books with more creativity and imagination. The story told in this two-volume set could have easily been told in one slimmer volume with a lot less fluff and much more enjoyment for the reader. Needless to say, I was very disappointed in this book and the duology overall. McKiernan has written a lot of novels set in Mithgar; one can only hope that they arenít all as dull as this particular series was.

Reviewed by: Diane

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