Verdict: THE BOY FROM THE FORGE is an excellent study in character writing and descriptive environment about mischief and romance, relationships and revenge. It tugs at the heartstrings, gently.
Centered mainly around a small handful of high school students, THE BOY FROM THE FORGE takes teenage tropes and draws them out, exploring family issues, educational choices, romantic escapades, party lifestyles and young dreams. The opening chapters introduce Max and Del, two teenagers at high-school, from hard-working and ambitious families. Their deep friendship encompasses the usual teenage desires: engaging the opposite sex, getting hold of a car to explore in, and enjoying a few beer-driven nights out, fueled by illicit sibling donations.
The characters are well developed, in that they’re gently placed in the realm between childhood and adulthood, and run together in a way that feels very much like the emotionally intense world of teenage cliques. The stories plod along, with Max and Del meeting two girls from the year above, Annika and Leti, and going out to impress them with mixed results. The group indulge in underage drinking at home and in bars (together with a frightening amount of drink driving), hit the drive-in, explore waterfalls and paths, and slowly develop some tight bonds.
There are definite strengths and weaknesses. The dialogue is excellent. The adult figures, while largely not integral to the plot line, are steeped in flawed and memorable character. There’s a flippant silliness about the teenagers’ actions – from testing their boundaries with alcohol to jokingly threatening to attack an annoying newspaper round customer with his paper – that feel intensely attuned to young life. The flip side is very much in the pacing and the description. Landscapes are heavily oversold on detail, sometimes to the point where they take on a nuance of their own. The details itself is all very well, apart from it offers so little to the progression of the story, and regularly distracts from it. The book could have been cut in length by a good 20-30% and not lost any of its essential character. In fact, it would have been better for it.
Then there’s the sense of what’s really going on – an underlying tension that takes an eternity to fully break out: the plotline is interesting, but readers will be hundreds of pages into the book before it finally emerges confidently from the shadows and takes on form beyond everyday teenage drama and some slightly heavier rebellion. Overall, the book makes for a solid piece of teen drama, but left this reader with a desire for a little more of the landscape and texture of the book to be left to the imagination, and a little more to actually happen in the course of any particularly chapter.
By the end, we felt like we knew Matt Brandt’s characters, and largely understood their motivations. Their stories felt like the kind of tales that could repeat themselves in every town, nationwide, with their own clever twists. As a study in character writing and descriptive environment, this is excellent. As a gripping tale of teenage drama, it promises more than it actually delivers.
~James Hendicott for IndieReader