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Nathan’s review of The Forbidden Realms by HC Newell.

Be also sure to check out my review of The Curse of the Fallen, the first book in the Fallen Light series!

The tl;dr: The Forbidden Realms is a bold departure from The Curse of the Fallen, less dark and more epic, an almost entirely new cast of characters, and a desert setting. Newell’s bravery rewards readers, with a book that is spiritually the same but explores a different part of the world. It takes a bit of time to warm up to the new characters (and the old characters are missed!), but they become as amazing and fleshed out as any of our old favorites. There is one misstep here in an overreliance on teleportation magic that takes away from Newell’s ability to create a setting, but this series continues to build in how magical and epic it is.

My full review:

HC Newell returns to her dark and epic Fallen Light series with The Forbidden Realms, a bold departure from her previous book in scale, tone, and approach. While I’m pretty sure I preferred the stylings of The Curse of the Fallen, Newell continues to take readers on an epic ride in The Forbidden Realms that still feels fresh and new while hearkening back to more “traditional” epic fantasies that many readers are clamoring for.

While The Forbidden Realms picks up shortly after the events of the previous book, it looks almost nothing like The Curse of the Fallen. In terms of characters, tone, and setting, The Forbidden Realms carves a path all its own as Neer further explores her past and magical abilities – all while trying to escape the evil Order who is hunting her down. Perhaps the biggest tonal shift in this book is that The Forbidden Realms no longer feels “grimdark adjacent” but is rather much more squarely in the realm of epic fantasy. To be sure this book still has a lot of dark elements and is still morally murky enough to keep it out of heroic fantasy, but Newell takes more inspiration from classic epic fantasy and sword & sorcery in the pacing and structure of the book rather than grimdark, as she did in her first book. A lot of this is because a shift in tone and style is what the plot demands. Neer’s successes and failures so far in the story have made it so that the darkness isn’t imbuing every aspect of her life. Rather, as she commands more of her magic, and learns more about her world, the power and story become much wider and more epic in scope.

Newell’s world continues to become more expansive as The Forbidden Realms shifts from the cave and forest environs of the first book to a part of the world covered in desert. The book loses some of the creepiness of being in contained and secluded spaces, but welcomes the heat, sand, and openness of the desert. Newell had already explored the mysterious and dangerous nature of forests and caves – of never knowing what could be around the next corner. Here, she explores the danger of being exposed…especially when your enemies have access to dangerous flying creatures. In addition to a new environment, here readers are also introduced to new human-like creatures, towns, cultures, and more as Neer moves ever forward in her quest.

In my review of The Curse of the Fallen I applauded Newell’s ability to evoke a sense of place – and to fully immerse readers in a world of history and magic. While she continues to do that here, the one thing that didn’t work as well for me was all of the teleportation magic used in this book. Characters zip around the world, between realms, and even between planes of existence in seconds. I understand why Newell utilized this in the book, even if it was just to speed the plot along. However, it has the consequence of divorcing me from the world Newell created. I lost the “on the ground” sense of the world that you only get by walking through it. I was often confused about where anyone was in space and time, and kind of felt like I was just rolling with the punches. It was never clear to me when characters were transporting, where they were transporting, or how all of these areas spatially related to one another. This didn’t “kill” the book for me or anything, but it did slightly diminish my enjoyment of the book a bit as it detracted from one of Newell’s greatest strengths as an author.

Having said that, Newell continues to demonstrate that she is a bold author, and she perhaps made no braver choice than introducing an entirely new cast of characters. The only character from The Curse of the Fallen is Neer, with everyone else being new (the other characters have their side of the story told in the novella published after this book). This initially threw me, as I was waiting (and waiting and waiting) for those characters to pop up, until realizing that Newell wanted us to get to know these new people – which include a warrior and a powerful evaeish mage. I was initially resistant to these new characters, as I just wanted my beloved Lorryk back (RIP), but over time I came to know these characters, their personalities, and their motivations. I still cannot wait to see what Klaud and Avelloch are up to, but I am also now fully dedicated to these new characters and their arcs.

While The Forbidden Realms is quite a different book (in terms of tone, setting, and characters) than its predecessor, it continues to be a fast-paced, bombastic fantasy read – this time with even bigger magic and a greater focus on the overarching arc for this series (which I think Newell has said will have six books total?). I’ve already reserved space near the top of my TBR for the novella and next book (which, at the time I am writing this, are the only currently published books), and I cannot wait to continue diving into Newell’s mind as we explore more corners of her world.


Nathan is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology where he specializes in death rituals of the Ice Age in Europe and queer theory. Originally from Ohio, he currently lives in Kansas where he teaches college anthropology, watches too much TV, and attempts to make the perfect macarons in a humid climate. He is also the co-host of The Dragonfire podcast with James Lloyd Dulin. He reads widely in fantasy and sci-fi and is always looking for new favorites!

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