Aconyte Books were kind enough to allow me to review a couple of books ahead of their general release and the first one I am doing is the first Keyforge book, Tales from the Crucible.
So couple of things I should get out of the way, I do have a causal work contract for Aconytes parent company Asmodee to demonstrate games, one of which is Keyforge.
I am also friends with three of the authors whose stories are featured in this book, David Guymer, CL Werner and Robbie MacNivan, but I have tried my best to not let those two things cloud my judgement.
I will start by saying that the software that is used to read these time limited books is absolutely awful on the iPhone 11, it’s very buggy, it misses off the top line of every page due to the notch, meaning you have to mess about a bit to read it, and it frequently skips forwards a few pages and very often crashes.
If you are going to buy these, do so in a format that can be read by any other program than Adobe Digital Editions.
Ok so with that out of the way, let’s dive in.
What Is The Crucible?
The Crucible is a giant word larger than the sun, an artificial planet that is constantly under construction by the the Architects.
They gather their materials by transporting them from other planets and worlds, often bringing that worlds inhabitants along for the ride.
The world contains every environment imaginable, from bustling urban sprawls, to deserts, to jungles, to meadows and everything in between.
The Architects communicate through the ethereal Archons who themselves are completely in the dark about the purpose behind the Crucible.
And so they gather bands of followers, to gather Æmber, a psychic substance that can be forged into keys that unlock the vaults if they architects.
Keyforge itself is a unique deck card game, developed by Richard Garfield, the developer best know for Magic: The Gathering and King of Tokyo.
It’s a really good game, you should go check it out, but I am not reviewing the game here, but I will soon.
Tales from the Crucible is a collection of nine stories from established authors the majority of whom have some experience writing for franchises.
The collection is expertly edited by Charlotte Llewelyn-Wells and I think she deserves a big mention here and the collection flows really well from one story into another with aspects of the universe introduced in earlier stories being built upon in later ones.
It probably does help to have a brief idea of the fluff and lore behind Keyforge, but it’s not exactly required.
So let’s take a look at the stories, we open up with Contract by Tristan Palgren and this is the tale of an elf assassin name Vira, hired to take out an Archon.
The Archons are godlike beings who are believed to be immortal so the story does touch on the contract being more trouble than it’s worth for the bother it might bring on the Shadows.
You get to see two Archons and their retinues battle it out over Æmber and the technology, magics and different cultures that make up the races of the Crucible.
This story is an amazing introduction to the world of Keyforge and the twist in the end is quite good.
I actually hope to see Vira feature in more stories as I rather like the character.
Then we have The Apprentice by Cath Lauria, which features Roz the titular apprentice to a Goblin mechanic.
Her whole purpose in life is to gather the parts and money to fix Tris, the only thing she has left of her parents, only thing is her boss has lost Tris in a bet.
This story follows her efforts to keep Tris by striking a deal with a Saurian, and her journey to get what he wants.
You get a great look at the Crucibles underworld and some of its most downtrodden inhabitants who live in an actual dump.
Personally I found this story to be the richest one in the book, the amount of world building it achieves is incredible and it’s a lovely quirky story and you can’t help but be touched with the ending.
After this we get Extermination Examination by Robbie MacNivan, who as I mentioned, is a friend.
This story follows a pair of students conducting fieldwork with the Martians, who are a fanatical, xenophobic and secretive race.
The Martians I found in the game to be a bit cliche and Robbie plays up all the cliches here, they even have heat rays! And it works, especially as he actually fleshes them out a lot and really digs into their paranoid nature.
The ending to this one caused me to laugh out loud, I was reading it in bed and it caused Megan to wake up frightened!
The Librarians Dual by M K Hutchins is about a librarian funnily enough, but she has a daughter whom is trapped in the walls of her library, and must be given books to read to prevent her from being fully absorbed into the walls.
Out on a journey one day to return some books to the central library, she encounters a gang of giant barbarian warriors and accidentally becomes their leader!
I was reading this and scratched my head as I wasn’t sure where it was leading, but oh my this story is hilarious, absolutely rip roaringly good, it kinda reminds me of Prachett a bit.
The next story, To Catch a Thief by Thomas Parrott concerns Nalea Wysasandoral an elven thief who whilst being excellent at what she does may have bitten off more than she can chew.
A notorious private detective, Talus the Thief-Taker a creature made of stone. Both of these are wonderful characters and despite only being a short story, you get to know a lot about them.
Another insight into the underworld of the Crucible and a twist at the end which was unexpected and very interesting.
The we have Useful Parasites by MK Hutchins which takes place in the Lesser Uncanny Forest and features a Taryx who is a creature a bit like an Ent, who acts as a healer for the creatures of the forest.
The story is about him taking care of a creature that crashes into his vegetable garden , whom he calls Burble, and tending it back to health for it to become a companion and assistant.
But noting on the Crucible is quite what it seems and the assistance that Burble gives him in his work to care for the creatures of the forest comes at a price.
It’s a slow story and the ending is what I would describe as bittersweet, but it’s really well written and very enjoyable all round.
The Perfect Organism is a contribution by CL Werner and this Godzilla inspired tale is about a Martian scientist called Briiilp and his efforts to make Creature 647 the perfect genetically adapted war machine.
Sending him out to face a an abomination known as the Tyrant, this tale really shows off Werners ability to write such horrible creatures and the way they act and battle and also really explores the character of the fanatical Martians.
Wibble and Pplimz, Investigators for Hire from M Darusha Wehm is a delightful story starting with the classification detective story trope of a missing person.
This most unusual story in the collection it sees the protagonist venture into the lawless zone accompanied by a classic odd couple of Wibble and Pplimz, who have some, shall we say erratic personalities.
The ending was a twist I really didn’t see coming and in a way was slightly disturbing.
I am not sure what to say about David Guymers Vaultheads, it was a really entertaining romp which looked at the idea that LARP is something that might also exist in the universes of speculative fictions.
It’s a really engaging story and I saw lots of aspects of role players, LARPers and gamers I know.
To be honest it was practically perfect as a means to end the collection as it’s kinda subversive and I liked that, and I think the ending was actually quite upbeat and emotionally satisfying.
This was a really good collection, I was already reasonably familiar with the lore behind Keyforge and this was a great way to explore the universe a bit further.
But now I want more, there are some characters in there that I really need to read more about, and I think that Charlotte Llewelyn-Wells has frankly done a superb job in getting the right authors to write the right stories.
I will absolutely be buying this as soon as it’s released in September.
The only reasons I took so long to read this was the dreadfulness of the software that I had to use to read it, plus during the reading of it I came down with COVID-19 and struggled to actually concentrate on reading in the way I would have liked to.
This is why I was sadly unable to read Wrath of N’Kai by Josh Reynolds, before my load of the file ran out which is a real shame