Title: The Emerald Forge
Author: Manda Benson
Publisher: Tangentrine Ltd, 2012
Once again, Manda Benson has dragged me back into her world. Having read nearly all of her SF titles by now, it's absolutely fantastic to get to see the "prehistory" of her world-building – all the stuff that gets mentioned in Dark Tempest et al.
Dana is a troubled protagonist, who suffers the brunt of bullies' attention and is socially maladjusted. And she lives a double life. On one hand she's just a kid. On another, she's the result of a scientific experiment that didn't quite go according to plan for her creator, one Ivor Pilgrennon.
This is YA with a difference. You're not going to see a love triangle. Instead you're dropped into the heart of turmoil from the perspective of one very brave girl who's caught on the cusp of young adulthood. She's old enough to reach for bigger things, but is still considered a child. A very frustrating place to be indeed.
As always, Benson's cybernetic creations are fascinating. In The Emerald Forge we encounter fantastical beasts brought to life in unexpected ways. Star of the show is the "wyvern" made up of metal and biological matter. Not so groovy is its opposite, the "griffin". The scarred Pendrick sees through the eyes of his martial eagle. Birds implanted with devices form deadly swarms. We see the first of the horses that were the highlight of Benson's novel Moonsteed.
Benson is unafraid of exploring the sociological implications of unfettered science. Though her characters are not easily likable and are often abrasive, they carry with them a kind of rough charm. Once you step into Benson's world, be prepared to be sucked into a reality as tangible and well realised as those created by the likes of Anne McCaffrey or CJ Cherryh.