The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley (Book Review)
‘Survive or die. That’s a peasant’s war, my stone friend. That’s the cause we’re fighting for.’
The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley is a captivating and utterly impressive fantasy standalone, and one that I had such a pleasure reading.
The story follows Task; a nine-foot-tall, more than four hundred-year-old golem. Yes, that’s right, our main protagonist is a golem, made of stone and old magic, and I freaking LOVED that! Task, and others of his kind, were built for war. They were an ultimate weapon, and one no army would ever want to reckon with. So, naturally, when civil war has been destroying the city of Hartlund for nine years, the general from the Royalist Truehard army purchases Task, in order to swiftly end their war with The Fading.
Sparks flew from every sword cut. Stone-chips sprayed with every bite of the axes, and yet Task dealt with each soldier in turn. He was merciless. His first master had taught him two lessons: shock and awe. Now, he passed on that wisdom. The men were wheat to him, ready to be cut and counted.
However, Task is different from his kind; he is the last Wind-Cut golem, but more importantly he is sentient. He is intelligent, he knows the consequences of his actions, and he feels emotions the same as any human would. More than four hundred years of brutal, gory, cruel warfare; bound by magical oaths and enslaved to vile masters who see him only as a war machine, have taken their toll on Task. Now he longs for change. A life of never experiencing human kindness has chipped away at the very core of Task, and his sole goal is to find an end to it.
Throughout the whole book, I was rooting for Task. His battle scenes are incredible; the golem creates some serious carnage, and it’s bloody brilliant, because of course I love a good head rolling, gut spilling, stabby stabby battle! Battles are always my favourite parts in any fantasy book, but I also love it when an author can show realistically what consequences those actions have afterwards. Therefore what really captured my heart is the way Task inwardly is repulsed by his actions; his destruction weighs heavily on him, but choice – the very thing that makes a person who they are – is denied to him. That is incredibly heartbreaking. I really appreciate that Galley doesn’t portray the violence Task commits in a gratuitous fashion, but instead shows what kind of grief and trauma that brutality causes. Galley is truly a gifted author, one who can create such vivid, unique and memorable characters, that simply put me on an emotional rollercoaster.
The well-developed characterisation doesn’t just stop at Task, as the other main characters are just as well written and rounded. This creates a rich story, ensuring that the golem isn’t the only standout character. Lesky was most definitely my favourite. She’s young, determined, feisty, witty and has such a fantastic view on life. She literally believes she can achieve anything she wants, no matter how far-fetched and despite her disadvantaged circumstances. The way she befriends Task – the way she shows him tenderness and a better side to humanity – it made me goddamn cry! Task and Lesky’s friendship was my favourite part for sure.
‘You say your master made a mistake? Made you broken? I think he made the finest golem there is. One who’s more than stone, not just some mindless machine. One who can make a choice for himself. One whose got a conscience. A heart.’
Then there are the military characters: General Huff, leader of the Truehard army, and the Knight, Alabast, hired by The Fading. These two in particular are hilarious, and work perfectly to cut through the darker themes of the book. General Huff is clearly incompetent due to his lack of experience with warfare, and his ignorance because of his privileged background. Some of the orders he gives border on being extremely ridiculous! And Alabast is one of those knights who constantly wants to shirk his role in the army and find alcohol instead. It’s important for me to let you know here that I have a deep love for Joe Abercrombie’s books, and these two were so reminiscent of some of his comedic characters!
Lastly, I’d just like to add that the ending of the book left me shocked, sad and thinking about the characters long after I’d finished. It’s so great to find a standalone that makes you do that! So all that’s left for me to say, really, is that this was a stellar read, and I really hope Galley ventures back into this world again at some point.