Last Updated on February 12, 2024
H.C. Newell puts the fun back in dark fantasy with The Forbidden Realms, the exhilarating second volume of her Fallen Light series and the follow-up to her highly accomplished debut novel, Curse of the Fallen. I will keep this review 100% spoiler-free for people who have not yet read Curse of the Fallen.
As in Curse of the Fallen, the lead heroine of the story is Nerana Leithor, or Neer for short, a young woman imbued with magical powers, including the ability to teleport short distances. But magic is forbidden in the land of Laeroth, making Neer the target of religious fanatics and rulers in the human-controlled territories.
Neer is an absolute joy to read: strong but vulnerable, funny but with a deep-seated sadness carrying over from events in the first book. In The Forbidden Realms, Neer finds herself stranded in the desert wastelands of Aragoth without any of her companions from Curse of the Fallen.
The Forbidden Realms introduces us to a new point-of-view character, the powerful elvish sorceress Aélla, as well as a delightful cast of supporting characters who have more than a few surprises in store for our heroine. I must admit, I was a bit skeptical about getting a whole new setting and cast of characters in The Forbidden Realms, but I quickly became attached to the new characters and their rip-roading adventure.
The Forbidden Realms is much faster paced compared to Curse of the Fallen. H.C. Newell delivers a constant stream of action which keeps the reader on the edge of their seat:
“Neer curled on top of the ground, gasping for breath. The burning in her veins had reduced to a low simmering heat. Her muscles were rigid and hard to move, and she reached shakily for her sword, just out of reach.”
Beyond the heart-pounding action scenes, there are also plenty of emotional moments:
“Leaning onto his shoulder, she closed her eyes and was comforted by his embrace as he wrapped his arm around her back. They sat in a comfortable silence for the rest of the morning, and for the first time in months, she knew she wasn’t alone.”
H.C. Newell is a natural storyteller, and her writing is the perfect match for this dark tale. The story includes some rather gruesome action scenes that are never gratuitous but will delight even the most skeptical grimdark reader.
Newell’s worldbuilding in The Forbidden Realms is also outstanding, a Tolkienesque nightmare with an undercurrent of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Newell builds an impressive depth of lore in her series, with plenty of nuance and Easter eggs that will reward the careful reader.
I still have mixed feelings about Newell’s use of footnotes to explain some of the worldbuilding elements. While it’s great to learn these additional pieces of history and lore, it would have been preferable to incorporate this information into the main text of the novel somehow.
H.C. Newell improves upon her craft in every way with The Forbidden Realms, delivering a fast-paced epic adventure that is equal parts dark and delicious. The Fallen Light series will continue with the third book, Shadows of Nyn’Dira, where the action shifts to the dark elven forests of Nyn’Dira.