I received a copy of the audiobook from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Hero Forged is a rare achievement for an indie urban fantasy debut, both in terms of its compelling characterisation and excellent author-narration.
I cannot claim to have a wide repertoire of urban fantasy under my belt, but I have read some of the more popular ones such as The Dresden Files, Kate Daniels, and The Iron Druid Chronicles, and my favourite, the Heartstrikers. I’ve not come across such in-depth and engaging character development of the main protagonist in the first book of a series. Save for perhaps another self-published title called The Never Hero – also an origins story of a reluctant hero.
Gabriel Delling was purportedly a con artist with a multitude of honed and developed personas that he could wear like an outfit to suit any situation. Running a bit short on cash, he accepted a job which sounded almost too good to be true. The result of that was a living nightmare he couldn’t shake off as he ended up with a powerful and ancient entity stuck in his head, and a succubus bound to him by magic.
What ensued was a series of unfortunate events that just kept escalating as more and more interested (and usually unfriendly) parties wanted a piece of him. Or more accurately, what was inside him or what he was becoming as he played host to ancient powers. Throughout the story, we get a fair bit of reflective moments as Gabe first struggled against the reality of monsters, demons and magic, and then against the temptation of power freely offered by the trapped entity in exchange for freedom. For me, some of Gabe’s best characterisation came from the chapter epigraphs which were excerpts from CONscience, an in-world book that Gabe was writing sometime before and after the momentous events that unfolded. I loved how it was firstly a play on the word ‘conscience’, and secondly, the way these passages gradually provided an increasingly intimate glimpse of his psyche.
“Few things in this world scare me anymore. When you learn to see into people’s hearts, there aren’t that many monsters left in the dark.”
I was initially a bit annoyed with Gabe’s insistence that it was all a big con played on him and his refusal to believe the things that were right in front of his face. And this transpired for quite a long time. Well, on hindsight, it made sense that denial was probably the best form of defence against becoming batshit crazy when faced with such impossibilities. While the pacing sometimes suffered from it, the evolution of Gabe through surviving the ordeals and the relationships he has built was executed superbly. The narrative felt quite long, but this is an origins story after all. You can’t forge a sword (or a hero) by taking shortcuts.
“Everyone has their limits, but few people truly know them. When is a burden too heavy? When will you collapse beneath the weight of what you’ve sought and sown? When do you give in and reach out for any offered hand, regardless of how soiled? Answer those questions unequivocally and you’ll know yourself well enough to become someone else.”
Author-narrated books are rare, and even more so, a self-recorded performance as stellar as the one for Hero Forged. I was thoroughly impressed by Erikson’s ability to convey the right emotions across various types of scenes. He handled the dialogues really well and was able to provide distinctive voices to all the characters. His voice acting of one described as sounding like “a stereotypical stoner from a Cheech and Chong movie” was hilariously perfect. He also deliberately applied a more exaggerated intonation for the ancient supernatural beings, emphasizing their archetypical nature. I sincerely believe that Erikson could also consider narrating other books aside from his own – some good novels out there could really do with a better narrator.
I found the writing in Hero Forged to be a bit more polished than some of the other popular urban fantasies. There was also a right balance of humour and levity against the grim and gritter bits to keep the overall tone of the book fun. Having listened to the audiobook, I also believe that the author’s writing was more suited to this format. This was not to say that its written form was not great – many positive reviews have proven otherwise. However, I do believe that readers who have an affinity to audio will derive more enjoyment out of the book in this format.