Review of the 3rd Installment of Henry Neff’s Tapestry Series – The Fiend and the Forge

The Fiend and the Forge (The Tapestry, #3)From the back cover:

The Tapestry series continues to weave threads of fantasy, mythology, science fiction, and mystery into a wholly original adventure that appeals to fans of everything from Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings to The X-Men. Genre-blending and fully illustrated, The Tapestry novels have caught the attention of middle-grade and young adult readers alike—and the series is only getting bigger.

Book One, The Hound of Rowan, was a boarding-school fantasy that School Library Journal called “a solid and worthwhile beginning . . . [that] should help ease the suffering once Harry Potter withdrawal sets in.” Book Two, The Second Siege, was an epic quest about which Kirkus Reviews said, “After devouring this title, young fans will clamor for more.”

Book Three, The Fiend and the Forge, is an unforgettable dystopian adventure across a landscape overrun with goblins and trolls. The world has changed almost beyond recognition, for with the Book of Origins firmly in his possession, the villainous Astaroth now has the power to reshape history at will. Plucking pivotal discoveries from mankind’s past, he has reduced the world to a preindustrial nightmare.

But while most humans toil as slaves within four demonic kingdoms, Astaroth allows those at Rowan to thrive in peaceful isolation. Theirs is a land where magic and nature flourish . . . so long as none dare oppose the new order.

That proves too steep a price for Max McDaniels. Unsure of his place at Rowan, Max sets out to explore the shifting landscape of the world beyond. In the course of his travels, he will become many things: Prisoner. Gladiator. Assassin. But can he become the hero that mankind so desperately needs?

In the third book of The Tapestry, author–illustrator Henry H. Neff takes the series in an exciting new direction, creating a fascinating dystopia in which myth, history, and monsters collide.

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I must say I’m not a HUGE fan of this series, but I have found it to be an entertaining read and I do want to find out what happens next.

The first book in the series, The Hound of Rowan, felt way too much like Harry Potter to me — a young kid, Max McDaniels, discovers he has magical powers when he receives an invitation to attend Rowan Academy, a secret school of magic.  The difference is that Max begins to learn other children with similar talents are disappearing, and that an ancient enemy may be reawakening and searching for him, to fulfill a prophecy, so they can re-enter the living world.  I almost put the book down because of its stark resemblance to Harry Potter, but I stayed with it because I wanted to find out what happened to Max’s mom.  That little nigglet wasn’t discovered until the 2nd book.  I also enjoyed Neff’s vivid descriptions, especially Max’s room at Rohan.  It was soo cool and I could see how a young boy’s mouth would just fall open in wonder if he had a room like Max’s.

The second book in the series, The Second Siege, kicked up the pace, and I have to say is probably my favorite out of the three books so far.  It is really ‘dark’ and Neff truly shines as an author.  It is an epic tale and the antagonists would definitely give Voldemort something to think about.  By the end of the second book, I was hooked on the series and definitely had to read the third book in the installment.

The Fiend and the Forge is probably Neff’s most ambitious tale yet and really puts this series on a scale that is equal to, if not better in many ways, to the Percy Jackson series.  The book is a virtual history lesson that presents a unique, imaginative view of what history would look like if it could somehow be seized, twisted, rewritten and then retold by a demonic, yet charismatic dictator (the demon, Astaroth).  Imagine a world where all modern conveniences never existed:  no electricity, no cds, no television, and all memories of them were erased.  This is Max’s world in The Fiend and the Forge, and he’s determined to change it back.

In the beginning of this book, we find that Max, the Rowan Academy and the world are inhabited by demons seeking to reassert their control over the world.  His roommate is not acting normal, and his friends are in danger.  Max becomes more determined than ever to protect his home and to seek revenge on the demon who murdered someone he loved very much.  Battling his impetuous instincts for revenge along with the deep forces of the ‘old magic’ within, Max sets off on a journey that takes him far away on a magic toy ship to Astaroth’s kingdom.  In spite of his own magical powers and the help of others, Max’s enemies recognize him and choose to provoke him in painful and personal ways, resulting in some highly poignant moments, life-threatening situations, and absolutely epic battles as he seeks to administer his own brand of justice.

The downside:  I felt some of the scenes should have been explained a bit more, like the child sacrifice scene.  I really wished Neff had explained the ending and the significance of that scene to Max a bit more.  I was left hanging.

I still feel like Max is much younger than he says he is in this book (he makes a comment to another character that he’s 16, 17, he can’t really remember).  His voice and mannerisms strike me that he’s no older than around 14.  This may not be a huge issue to the young readers, but adults might find it a bit annoying.

Neff has a highly visual writing style that pulls the reader alongside Max as he seeks the answers to life’s many questions.  He also doesn’t talk down to his readers, which I find refreshing.  We see Max grow, and we cheer him on and pray his ideas to cure the world’s ills work out.

The Fiend and the Forge is a stand-alone book but I really think you should read the other two books first so you know what is going on.  I am looking forward to the 4th and final installment in the series as I think it will be the darkest and most epic of them all.

Stars:  4 out of 5

Target age group:  10 and up.