The Plague Forge, by Jason M. Hough

Series: Dire Earth Cycle #3

This edition: Paperback

Publisher: Titan Books

Published: September 27th 2013

My rating: 5/5

The Elevator connected Earth to the stars. The Towers suppressed the deadly plague. As the final Builder event approaches, five keys will unlock their secret.

After discovering the first key in the wreckage of a crashed Builder ship, Skyler Luiken and his crew follow the migrating aura towers in search of the four remaining relics. But time is running out: the survivors learn that the next Builder event will be the last, and one of the objects has already fallen into dangerous hands…

As the alien Key Ship looms above Earth, and the surface below is ravaged by corrupt councils, fanatical cults and infected subhumans, the team race to retrieve the missing artefacts.

Will they finally reveal the Builders’ plan?

The final book in Jason M. Hough’s debut trilogy is the capstone to a series I was thrilled to discover last year, and to have finally finished it is kind of a bittersweet moment for me. I want more! But rest assured, Hough is a writer I will definitely be keeping an eye on…

Below the cut will be at least mild spoilers for the first two books in this series, so if you read on, do be warned!

One remarkable thing about this book, and something that is entirely to Hough’s credit as a writer, is that until it actually happened, I had no clue what the end result of the whole mission to find and use the Keys would be. What would Skyler and company find when they got there? Would they get there at all, and who might be missing by then? Not a clue. I was kept guessing the whole time, and I loved it.

Naturally, there were a few surprises along the way, not least of which was (awesomely!) the ending itself. But I won’t go into that. I will say that, despite any and all personal circumstances that kept me from finishing this book weeks ago, this book was a masterclass in turning the tension screws and hooking the reader. (Dear deity, that final third.) 


One of those surprises that I would like to highlight, at the risk of a mild spoiler, is the character of Russell Blackfield and the resolution of his role in things. For much of this trilogy, he hangs around like a bad smell – and though I don’t think the books would have been quite the same without him, I’ve said before that I had a lot of trouble liking him. This nagged at me, until I got to this point and found out what was ‘fated’ to happen to him. 

My heart. I would like it back now, please.

And that’s all you get on that. You know the drill, people.

It might seem redundant to put the ‘epic’ label on a novel, or series of novels, that span an entire world and space beyond, but aside from the physical scale encompassed here, it really does fit. Skyler’s crew – our fellowship, if you like – is pretty thoroughly scattered when the book begins, and from that standpoint it’s difficult to see how they might come back together again. This contributed to that lack of a clue that I mentioned, regarding how things might end. It was skilfully and cleverly handled, though, and the final stretch leading up to (and including) That Epilogue was nothing short of a tour de force. By the time all of these disparate elements were reunited, I could not have put this book down if I’d tried.

And make no mistake, what we had here were disparate elements. Despite being brought together early on, Skyler and the others – Tania, Sam, even Russell, to name a mere few – all had their own arcs here, and their own journeys to go on. The end did bring them all back together, but as with everything else, even that resolution involved making their own choices and having their own say. Upon reflection, there was no other way it could have been done that would have done them all justice. 

The same can be said for this book as a whole. I wanted so very badly to be justified in awarding that five-star rating after a pair of solid fours. I wanted it to go that extra mile, to really sweep me up and carry me away – and did it ever. Hough finished his trilogy just right, and not only is the result something mind-blowing, but it felt deeply satisfying at the same time. Such a result is by no means easy to achieve, so well done, sir.

Well! This year is certainly off to the right kind of start, and the close of this trilogy has so very much to do with that. I could not be more pleased. If you’re still new to the Dire Earth trilogy, pick it up now if you value your sci-fi at all. Seriously. Do not miss it. 

Now, when do we get new stories?

One thought on “The Plague Forge, by Jason M. Hough

  1. I’ve heard other people describe the ending of the series as “bittersweet” and heart wrenching as well. I really should get a move on when it comes to reading this, at the very least to find out what happened after the nail biting end of the second book.

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