WE RIDE THE STORM by Devin Madson (Book Review)
Seventeen years after rebels stormed the streets, fractions divide Kisia. Only the firm hand of the god-emperor holds the empire together.
But when a shocking betrayal destroys a tense alliance with neighboring Chiltae, all that has been won comes crashing down.
Now as an empire dies, three warriors will rise. They will ride the storm or drown in its blood.
We Ride The Storm by Devin Madson was an interesting book for me and the first one I’ve read by the author. It pulled me out of a bit of a reading slump – yay for me – and reminded me of all that I love about fantasy. It was also quite different from anything I’ve read lately.
It starts out absolutely all over the place. Normally there is a moment of peace, a second to establish a base norm for characters and the world, but this book grabs you straight by the lower intestines. We meet each of the main characters already in the middle of their own plotlines, not just making decisions but taking action and reacting, and I’d be lying if I said it was easy to get to grips with who was doing what. Thankfully it was never overwhelming because the pace was perfect, the tension ebbed and flowed as it should and the characters quickly grew on me. It wasn’t long before I was 150 pages in and didn’t want to put it down and I have to attribute this to the extraordinary quality of the prose. The plot may be a little complicated but the way it is told is just gorgeous.
The first protagonist of three, and the most traditional, is Princess Miko. Miko’s father was actually Katashi Otako, killed years before in a failed uprising to reclaim the throne his family once sat on and now condemned by history as a traitor. However, only her mother and brother know the truth of her parentage, with her being publicly and legitimately regarded as the daughter of Emperor Kin. The Emperor is in the process of negotiating a treaty with the Chiltae but Miko and her brother Prince Tanaka have their own mission, one that involves Tanaka being formally named as heir.
Miko is a bit of a paradox. She is strong, smart and tenacious but also used to being culturally subservient to her brother – and men in general – and his quest to one day sit on the throne; the woman behind the man, as it were. It would seem to some that she is driven by rage but I would say it is more a lack of confidence clashing with an unwillingness to silently witness injustice and stupidity.
“I will prove them all wrong,” I muttered. “Prove that not all Otakos are monsters. That a woman can sit on the throne. That it is possible to rule fairly without being blinded by old anger and hurt.”
Then we meet Rah of The Levanti. Rah is torn between his love for his homeland and the ways of his people and what he must do to keep his ‘swords’ alive. He is a character with a great deal of honour who is stuck in his ways in a changing world. He strives to be decent and strong but often finds himself a mirror of those around him that he wishes were better. The Levanti live and die for their horses, riding and hunting on the plains, and until recently were a tribal people. Then they started falling under the rules and regulations of the cities that were growing and expanding around them. Missionaries who at first relied on their protection in the wild now claim the Levanti hunting grounds for farming land, and when laws are broken the men of law tended to side with the men of the city. We first come across Rah doing what the Levanti do after a battle in order to free the souls of the dead so they may be reborn: severing heads.
“It’s harder to sever a head than people think. Perhaps, if one were skilled with an axe, it could be done in a single blow – so long as the body was not trying to run away at the time – but out in the grasslands, decapitation is done with a knife.”
I love horses so I tend to enjoy reading about people that respect them and the Levanti are literally prepared to die for their horses. Their culture is so heavily invested in horses that one who can speak to and train them the best are the equivalent of a respected medicine man or High Priestess. In this respect, it was interesting to see ‘perfect for fans of Mark Lawrence’ on the cover because one of the things I loved about the character of Jorg from his Broken Empire trilogy was that he had a natural affinity for horses. Horses are excellent judges of character and for some reason, despite all the horrors he visited on those around him, horses liked Jorg, and for me, that meant he was always redeemable.
Lastly we have Cassandra the assassin, who I found to be the most interesting but sadly the least seen. She has a bit of a split personality thing going on. She hears a distinctly separate voice in her own head, one that often counsels her against the path of murder and death and one that can also, when properly motivated, take control of her body. Hers is a really cool storyline to follow and she has things going on I’ve never seen before. Her relationship with the other ‘She’ in her mind is the only real magic I can think of in the entire book, which is a little different but sure to be expanded upon in the next volume. Her path through the book is perhaps the most riddled of all so I hope we also see more of her next time.
One thing that struck me about We Ride The Storm was how willing the author was to place the main characters at the mercy of the decisions of others. More often than not the protagonists are pawns on a chessboard, not game-changers themselves, ordered here and there, given the choice between a certain action or death, which is often very little choice at all. It emphasised the grimdark elements in the book because my overriding emotion for the protagonists was sympathy as they were pulled back and forth between their own wants and needs and those being forced on them. They are all given moments of opportunity to rise up and play the game themselves, but as the opening few chapters start with three carefully laid plans all smashing into each other it’s hard to hold out much hope for any of them.
“You said you weren’t our enemy.”
“And I did not lie. Truth is just more complicated than any single utterance.”
“I hate you.”
“Even that isn’t the whole truth.”
We Ride The Storm is a fantastic start to Australian Devin Madson’s “traditional” publishing career. It was only after reading the author’s interview at the end I discovered that whilst this is a new series, the Vengeance Trilogy was written whilst Madson was self-publishing and is set during the period seventeen years before this trilogy. That explained why things felt so crazy at the start and also displays Madson’s very adept hand in crafting a story that I was able to get into Storm and enjoy it without having read the preceding trilogy. Damn this was a good book. We Ride The Storm is perfect for devourers of grimdark fantasy and a triumph of a debut. Bring me the next course.
Thank you to the publishers at Orbit for sending me an ARC. It in no way impacted my review.