The Heart Forger by Rin Chupeco is an intense, suspenseful sequel to The Bone Witch–a YA fantasy series about magic, monsters, politics and a vengeful anti-heroine. Though the premise might seem a little cliche to some–a misunderstood anti-heroine seeks explain her side of the story and hurt the people who wronged her–what makes this series standout is its beautiful Asian-inspired world-building, intricate magic systems, nuanced social commentary and a mysterious, suspenseful plot.
Trigger warnings: graphic violence, blood and gore
An Incredibly Compelling, Morally Grey Anti-Heroine
I won’t lie, Tea is the main reason why I loved The Bone Witch so much. Her character growth is what keeps me turning the pages–her transformation from being a sweet, naive teenager into a bitter, condemned fugitive is the main plot of this book and I absolutely love it. Rin Chupeco did such a wonderful job in showing us how her personal experiences of loss and betrayal in the past slowly shapes her into the woman she becomes in the present. I loved watching her struggling to understand herself and questioning the rules that others expected her to follow blindly.
The Relationship Dynamics Between The Pahlavi Siblings
The brother-sister relationship in this book is everything my heart could have wished for and more. I’ve always loved the dynamics of their relationship since the first book, but now with Tea more grown up and mature, the siblings naturally grew closer. The love and friendship between Fox and Tea is portrayed brilliantly, and serves to make the story well-rounded as the siblings grow into their own personalities.
A Powerful Cast Of Characters
Another thing that I loved about this book is that we get to explore the storylines of the side characters too, and watch their growth throughout the progression of the novel. Likh and Khalad were my favorite of these characters, and I absolutely loved seeing their adorably awkward interactions on page.
Subtle Social Commentary And Representation Of Diversity
It’s no surprise that Chupeco, being a writer of color herself, did a spectacular job of adding subtle social commentary and representing diversity in this novel. I loved the way she weaved concepts of gender fluidity, feminism and class differences naturally into the narrative. Once again, her work is a reminder of how important it is to allow marginalized authors share their experiences and knowledge through literature.
An Intriguing, Fast-Paced Plot
A huge chunk of the first book of the series was spent in carefully crafting the dazzling, magnificent, vivid world of The Bone Witch, which is great because it establishes the setting and the atmosphere for the series perfectly. The second book, in contrast, focuses more on action, lore, the characters and the plot.
In The Heart Forger we get to discover more of the intricate policies behind the asha association, the eight kingdoms, and the villainous Faceless. There is a touch of romance that I personally did not care for, but still enjoyed anyway because of how effortlessly Chupeco tied it in to the story.
All that being said, there were a few things about this book that I absolutely did not enjoy. The dual narrative for instance. In the first book, the narration style added to the mystery and the suspense of the novel perfectly, but in the sequel it began to feel overused. In particular, several scenes that occurred in the present timeline felt like filler chapters.
I also couldn’t help but notice how disturbingly modern the dialogues were in the past timeline. I don’t have a problem with the use of modern styles of speech in fantasy, but when all the characters seem to use old-fashioned styles in their dialogues in the present timeline, it felt unnatural and absurd that the same characters would use modern dialogues in the past timeline. This inconsistency may not bother everyone, but it kind of interfered with the flow of the story for me.
I was also rather unsatisfied with the ending. I personally believe this series would have been better as a duology rather than a trilogy.
In conclusion: although it would have been better if this book wrapped up the whole story, The Heart Forger is still a fantastic sequel to an already phenomenal series. Would definitely recommend it to all fantasy fans, even if you didn’t enjoy the first book much.