All Orna Ironheart wants is to take over her father’s forge when he retires, but things aren’t so simple for young dwarven women in the town of Stonehaven. Firstly, they can’t inherit and own property or businesses, and secondly, Orna’s expected to marry a most unsuitable boy – her da’s apprentice Immig.
Yet when a dragon is sighted, and Orna’s da embarks on a foolhardy quest to kill the beast and capture its treasure, Orna just knows this is going to spell disaster.
Despite the odds stacked against them, Orna and her friend Dani set out on the menfolks’ tracks, and their journey across a perilous marsh, through a gloomy forest, and up a precipitous mountain has them realise that even two dwarven girls might just be their people’s only hope when a dragon’s fury is unleashed.
Dwarven lasses weren’t supposed to be smiths. Oh, it was perfectly fine for her to make pretty things for ladies, to patch a kettle or put filigree work on a bleeding candlestick. But to make swords, daggers, arrowheads, and shields… No, that was for the menfolk, and her da Garen wanted a man to work in his forge with him. Not some girl. Even if she was his daughter and perfectly capable of telling her ball-peen hammer from a mallet.
Dragon Forged is a young-adult fantasy novel, written by the South-African author Nerine Dorman; a great story about breaking the genre stereotypes with big doses of fun and humour, pretty much similar to what Pratchett did in Equal Rites or in the Tiffany Aching series, using one of those fantasy races that tend to be ignored: dwarfs.
Orna Ironheart just wants to take her da's forge once he retires, but dwarven young women in Stoneheart are not supposed to receive an inheritance. To add salt to the wound, she's expected to marry her father's annoying apprentice, Immig; Orna is not taken seriously despite being a really competent blacksmith due to her genre.
When a dragon is sighted, menfolk from Stoneheart decide to embark on a foolish quest to kill the beast and retrieve its treasure; Orna is sure it's going to be a disaster. In the company of her friend Dani, they will start their own quest following the menfolks' tracks, and decide to have their own adventure.
In any case, she had a good idea how the proceedings were going—with lots of throat clearing, grumbling, and grousing. Then, if the discussions became truly heated, a few flying fists might follow to reinforce opinions. That was how it was with the menfolk. Tedious.
Orna and Dani will travel in their own quest, proving their own independency and their ability to sort out problems; even when the menfolk fall under the spell of a witch, they manage to rescue them. And after our pair of heroines reach the dragon's lair, they will soon realize they are the only hope to save Stoneheart from the fury of a dragon.
The plot is kinda a gender-bending retelling of the classical fantasy quest story, using an underrepresented race as dwarves, that usually are just painted as men. In the end, Dorman is writing a novel about breaking genre molds, a critic of how women are pigeonholed in certain roles just because of their birth, even when they might be more prepared than their masculine counterparts.
Things would have been so different had Orna been born a boy, but there was nothing she could do about the accident of her birth. No matter how many times she told herself life wasn’t fair, it wasn’t going to change anything.
Personally, I found this novel to be really fun, something that you can knock off in one afternoon, and while this length was good, I think it could have benefitted from a longer plot, as we could have explored much better some situations, instead of going so quickly over them.
Dragon Forged is a great novel, perfect for those that are looking for more books that could be compared to Discworld; a standalone that will make you laugh and have a great time.
Nerine Dorman is a South African author and editor of science fiction and fantasy currently living in Cape Town, with short fiction published in numerous anthologies. Her YA fantasy novel Dragon Forged was a finalist in the 2017 Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature, and she is the curator of the South African Horrorfest Bloody Parchment event and short story competition. Her short story “On the Other Side of the Sea” (Omenana, 2017) was shortlisted for a 2018 Nommo award. Her novella The Firebird won a Nommo for "Best Novella" during 2019, and her novel Sing down the Stars won Gold for the Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature in 2019. In addition, she is a founding member of the SFF authors’ co-operative Skolion that has assisted authors such as Masha du Toit, Suzanne van Rooyen, Cristy Zinn and Cat Hellisen, among others, in their publishing endeavours.