Title: The Heart Forger
Author: Rin Chupeco
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
In The Bone Witch, Tea mastered resurrection―now she’s after revenge…
No one knows death like Tea. A bone witch who can resurrect the dead, she has the power to take life…and return it. And she is done with her self-imposed exile. Her heart is set on vengeance, and she now possesses all she needs to command the mighty daeva. With the help of these terrifying beasts, she can finally enact revenge against the royals who wronged her―and took the life of her one true love.
But there are those who plot against her, those who would use Tea’s dark power for their own nefarious ends. Because you can’t kill someone who can never die…
War is brewing among the kingdoms, and when dark magic is at play, no one is safe.
In my review of its predecessor, The Bone Witch, I babbled a lot about a lot of things, which consequently resulted in over a thousand words. This time, I plan to say (hopefully) much less as I’ve been lucky enough to be one of few to read The Heart Forger prior to its release, and I believe the best part of my reading experience with The Heart Forger was not knowing what to expect and encountering the countless surprises Rin Chupeco has laid out on my own and at my own pace.
The Heart Forger immediately picked up from where The Bone Witch left off, and much like the latter, the story is still told in alternate perspectives: the present as narrated by a bard, and the past as narrated by the bone witch herself, Tea. In line with this, my reading process remained the same; as I read, my mind raced to link past and present events all the while trying to fill in the gaps in between timelines to make sense of the bigger picture. I actually really loved how the story prompted me to make an active effort in digesting what was going on. Books that are enjoyable to read are great (no doubt!), and books that I can read again and again without running out of new things and ideas to think about are equally great – but books that excel in both ways are the best written, in my opinion, and The Heart Forger definitely falls under that category.
One of the most noticeable differences between The Bone Witch and The Heart Forger is that while the former was anchored to its characters, the latter was significantly more plot-driven. With the intricacies of the world-building already firmly established in the first book, The Heart Forger was given a lot of allowance to place more weight in its plot – a plot that is very faintly reminiscent to numerous dark fantasy novels, but without compromising the integrity and ingenuity of its original premise.
Another observable difference is the decrease in the exploratory elements such as descriptions of culture and imagery. The sequel’s plot involved quite a bit of traveling from one kingdom to another, and unlike in The Bone Witch, the insights on these kingdoms’ respective cultures were not thoroughly covered or elaborated (although I’m not saying the cultural aspects of the series were totally disregarded). To me, it was understandable given the conditions faced by the characters. The journey taken by these characters was not one for vacationing or sightseeing, but rather, they were guided by the urgency and importance of their respective personal missions. In the ensuing chaos, I was immediately thrown into the nitty gritty of everything, and I basked in the sweet, unadulterated satisfaction of every moment of it. Once the plot reached its momentum, I honestly could not stop myself from reading (seriously, I was reading this book during one of my classes – that’s how invested I was!!!).
On its own, The Heart Forger is an incredibly well-thought, phenomenally written fantasy told in hauntingly compelling narratives at a thrillingly suspenseful pace. What I really loved about it was the author’s ability in expertly balancing out all the elements. The eventfulness of the plot never compromised the complexity or the development of the characters, especially Tea. The faster pacing never took away any depth – be it in terms of character relationships, themes, or impact. The deepening of a romantic relationship that was only hinted at in The Bone Witch was effective without overshadowing any of the other crucial elements.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that I can continue raving about The Heart Forger for hours and hours, but let me keep this as simple as I can. Basically, this sequel was everything I could hope for and more: excellently placed tension, subtle social commentary, meaningful and relevant themes, surprising reveals from both main and supporting character roles, engrossing and effective writing, and more insight to tons of unanswered questions while still leaving hopelessly obsessed readers, such as myself, wanting more and more and more. Book 3, I cannot wait to get my hands on you!
Disclosure: I received a digital copy of The Heart Forger as part of my participation in a blog tour. This neither affects my opinion nor the content of my review. Thank you very much to the blog tour organizers (The Fantastic Flying Book Club) and the publisher for the opportunity!
Excerpt from the book:
Mykaela sighed. “And so by that logic, you think you are different from Dark asha of the past? What you have in ability, Tea, you lack in wisdom. You cannot compel the dead if they are not willing. Wasn’t that the first lesson I taught you after you raised Fox from his grave? Arrogance is not a virtue, sister.”
I looked down, blinking back tears. Was I arrogant to want to save her? Unlike Fox, Dark asha and all those with a silver heartglass cannot be raised from the dead, and that permanence frightened me. “I’m sorry. I want to help. But I feel so powerless.”
I heard her move closer, felt her hand on my head, stroking my hair.
“It’s not such a bad thing to feel powerless sometimes. It teaches us that some situations are inevitable, and that we should spend what little time we have in the company of the people that matter most. Do you understand me, Tea?”
Flying Paperbacks // Mousai Books // My Reading List // Confessions of a Serial Reader
While the concept of an asha is heavily based on geisha culture, the concept of a bone witch was actually Filipino-inspired. Scrub away all the layers and you’ll find that it’s based on the mangkukulam, which is a Filipino witch doctor/voodoo priest/ess. The mangkukulam deals with the dead, invokes curses on behalf of clients, and also offers medicinal remedies to their patients. They are generally feared in Filipino culture, but that doesn’t stop many from approaching them whenever they have a “kulam” (curse) that needs lifting, or herbal remedies for medical conditions that the local village doctor couldn’t heal.
The Heart Forger is a sequel. Did you feel a bit pressured when it came to ensuring that it would be as well-received as its predecessor, The Bone Witch? And if so, how did you cope with this pressure?
I’d say every book I write comes with the same kind of pressure, regardless of whether it’s a sequel or not. It’s easier for me to come up with new stories for succeeding books in the series, because the worldbuilding (which takes up a lot of my initial research/writing) has already been established. Of course, that also means I have to up the stakes every time, which becomes the main problem for me. I try to compartmentalize when it comes to not thinking about how it’s going to be received, and just focus on getting the story right. Most times I’m successful at the compartmentalization – I usually tend to get stressed AFTER the book’s been released rather than while writing it!
To help me de-stress, as I mentioned in both my dedications in The Bone Witch and The Heart Forger, also involved consuming a lot of ramen.
What scene in The Heart Forger did you most enjoy writing?
The romance, oddly enough! I’m not known for writing romance (although I sort of consider romance-writing a strength of mine). I’ve seen the “love story” that grew in my previous series, The Girl from the Well, characterized as a “love story that’s not a romance”, and I think that’s a pretty good description. I like introducing weird spins and angles into the romances I do write, and The Heart Forger’s no different since (1) I never mentioned the name of Tea’s significant other in The Bone Witch (until the very end, at least) despite stressing his importance in the series, and (2) explored the romance in the sequel rather than in the first book, where other writers might have established it earlier. Trying to make the romance believable given those factors was a challenge, but I’m fairly pleased with how it turned out.
What was the biggest challenge in writing this book, and how did you overcome it?
Author-wise: deadlines! At the time I was writing The Heart Forger, I was a new mother just transitioning into being a fulltime author. Juggling with taking care of a baby, revising The Bone Witch for my editor, finishing the second book within the deadline that same year, and disentangling myself from other work, freelance and otherwise, was easily the busiest I’d ever been in a long while despite the fact that I’ve always been used to multitasking. I had a lot of support from family and friends, which helped make things easier, but making so many changes in my life in such a short amount of time – it’s not something I’d recommend for authors, either!
Book-wise: I love plots within plots, and the challenge with writing The Heart Forger was in trying to make them complex without being complicated, which is always going to be difficult and will always vary depending on reader opinion. I think I struck a better balance this time around!
As a Filipino who hopes to have a novel published someday, seeing Filipino authors like you who are thriving in the traditional publishing industry is really inspiring. What message or advice would you like to give other aspiring Filipino writers like myself?
Thank you! Filipinxs are exceptional readers and writers, and I would love to see more representation of them both in books and as authors! Unfortunately, Filipinxs also have a habit of discouraging people from what they perceive as “too hard” work (their crab mentality culture comes to mind), either inadvertently or deliberately. If I’d listened to the number of local Filipinx writers who’ve told me not to pursue international publishing because it’s “too unrealistic” or because “our stories and writing styles are not for global audiences” or “only Filipinx living in the USA get publishing deals” back when I started querying, I wouldn’t be where I am today! I really, really, REALLY would like fellow Pinxys to stop looking at writers like me or Gail Villanueva or Kate Evangelista or Sam Sotto as the exceptions, and start looking at us as what more Pinxys could potentially be. There are always going to be pros and cons when it comes to traditional publishing, but people who tell you not to try simply because they weren’t successful at it themselves should be the last people you listen to. Believe in two things: (1) that you have a story worth reading; (2) that taking a chance in traditional publishing and engaging with like-minded writers will always improve your craft. Always.