Story Rating: 3.75 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars
Narrator: Gary Furlong
Length: 12 hours, 15 minutes
Balen has worked his way up to be Prime Paladin, the man responsible for protecting the king. However, when he was training as a paladin, Balen never imagined he would one day be serving Zavrius, his former lover. Zavrius was never supposed to be king; as the fifth heir, he had a long line of siblings ahead of him to claim the throne. Unlike his brothers and sisters, Zavrius was never trained for battle or the throne, but rather in music. However, when all four of his siblings were murdered, their bodies found on enemy territory, Zavrius became the unexpected king.
The murders of the royal family came on the heels of much political unrest in the country. After years of war with the neighboring Rezwyn Empire, the countries have come to an uneasy truce, one Zavrius is determined to continue. However, not everyone is happy to see the war come to an end and many in the country still dream of expansion into Rezwyn land. And with Zavrius suspected by some to be behind his siblings’ deaths, there is an unsettling number of people who want to see Zavrius off the throne, whatever it takes.
It isn’t long after Balen is sworn in to his new role as Prime that the first of the attacks come on Zavrius’ life. It is clear that there are factions plotting against Zavrius and it is difficult to tell who to trust and who is secretly a traitor. Balen finds himself not only finding his footing as the new protector of the king, but also having to navigate keeping Zavrius safe when there are so many forces against him. But Balen is determined to defend Zavrius, not just as the king, but also as the man he loves. Now, the two of them together will fight with all they have to find out who is behind the attacks and stop them, before it is too late.
Reforged by Seth Haddon is a high fantasy with lots of political intrigue and a lovers-reunited romance between a king and his guard. I think the most interesting part for me was the magical world building. We learn that ancient creatures died and their bodies prove to be a rare source of magic that the paladins can wield with their special weapons and armor. The royal family also can manipulate the magic, and Zavrius has the ability to use his lute harp in all kinds of interesting ways, such as bringing someone a sense of calm that serves as almost a lie detector. It was a unique take on magic and the way it is derived and wielded added some interesting elements to the story, particularly as someone manages to use it for nefarious purposes.
While this is a fantasy story, the focus is really on the political intrigue surrounding the murder of the heirs, as well as who is now after Zavrius. Some are angry at him because they think he killed his siblings to become king. Some are angry because they are not interested in peace with the Rezwyn Empire and they know that Zavrius’ siblings were far more war-mongering than him. But it is clear early on that people want Zavrius dead, and the story slowly reveals a plot with a few more twists than I anticipated. While I guessed one of the main elements fairly early on, others were unexpected and clever surprises. There are also some well done major fight scenes, particularly one in the middle of the story that was well choreographed and very exciting. I am not sure the story fully sticks the landing for me, however. The final battle ends without enough resolution\. While the bad guy is eliminated, this wasn’t a one-person plot. I am not clear how with so many people involved in the desire to overthrow the king, these one or two deaths suddenly made it all go away. Did everyone else just give up and change their minds? Also, there is a major reveal that was super shocking in a great way, but there was not enough development to make it all work. Warning: Major Spoiler here.There just wasn’t enough to really flesh this out to make what could be a really exciting reveal come together.
I enjoyed Zavrius and Balen together and Zavrius’ playfulness is a nice complement to Balen’s more serious side. However, I did find that Zavrius is frustratingly cavalier about protecting himself or even talking to Balen before charging off and getting himself in trouble. Given that someone demonstrably wants to kill him (in fact, many someones), the fact that he makes no effort to allow Balen to do his job is frustrating. Balen, for all that he is supposed to be the Prime Paladin, isn’t always so good at doing his job either. The two have assassins on their trail and seem to be super casual about protection or staying out of the public eye. I also found it strange that the book opens with Balen running through the woods, late to the ceremony to install him as Prime. The only explanation is he lost track of time, which seems strange given this is supposed to be the culmination of his life’s work, and he just what? Couldn’t be bothered to show up on time? It would have worked better for me if this provided some insight into Balen’s character or personality, but it doesn’t really go anywhere.
Part of the conflict these guys face is that Balen is now Zavrius’ main bodyguard. We are told they were once lovers and that they split because Balen was to be Prime for Zavrius’ brother, Theo. However, when Theo died, Balen’s duties shifted to Zavrius as the new king. However, we get virtually no background on their past, on how serious things were between them, or how they handled the breakup. How long were they together? How long ago was it? We are told they broke up because Balen wanted to be Prime for Theo, but not why that prevented he and Zavrius from being together. I think for a lovers reuniting trope to really work, we need to feel the foundation of that past connection and how they are building upon that now, but we never get much about their pasts. The men do come together nicely and I think the story gives them a good present-day connection with a nice balance between their king and protector dynamic and their personal one.
I listened to the audio version of the story by narrator, Gary Furlong, and he was a real standout for me. Furlong really captures the tone of the story well, especially the characters. Zavrius has this sort of lazy smirk kind of vibe going on, one that Balen finds charming and that seems to be a bit of a defense mechanism for Zavrius’ insecurities. I am not sure how this comes through in the text, but Furlong finds that perfect line where he gives Zavrius a bit of naughty charm, whereas I can see how Zavrius could have felt irritating in the wrong narrator hands. This is a big cast and the major players all felt distinct and it was easy to tell who was speaking. Sometimes with fantasy I can get overwhelmed with all the names of people and places and trying to pronounce them correctly and remember them. In this case, I think listening to this in audio really smoothed that out because hearing them is easier than reading them for me. Furlong just really brings the story to life in great ways and I definitely would recommend the audio if you are considering this story.
I think there is a lot to like in this book and I found it kept my attention, even as a long story. Some aspects are particularly clever and creative, and while all the story development didn’t fully come together for me, I still think this is an interesting fantasy and one that is definitely worth consideration. The is a second book releasing in the series and I am definitely eager to check that one out as well.