“Do not make assumptions about things you know nothing about. An emperor serves his people. The day the people serve the emperor is the day the empire falls. Remember that, Miko, if nothing else. War profits no peasant.”
Synopsis: The Kisian Empire is hanging on by a thread. As an alliance with their neighbor Chiltae crumbles, the threat of war looms over the region. In the midst of the impending chaos, three souls are plunged into the mires of intrigue surrounding the conflict: Princess Miko, daughter to a traitor; Captain Rah e’Torin, an exiled warrior; and Cassandra Marius, an assassin whose mind is in turmoil. When the storm rages across the land, where will it find these warriors?
Hello readers! I hope you’re doing well today. I’ve been fairly busy as of late, and have been juggling a fair number of new texts to review. Thanks for the patience! I try to get content up as fast as possible, but I’m a one-man show (for now) with a full-time job and a lot of hobbies.
For those who have been reading some of my other reviews, it should come as no surprise that I enjoy supporting authors who are either 1) self-published or 2) newly acquired by large publishers after having been previously self-published. Devin Madson falls into the second camp, and “We Ride The Storm” will be published by Orbit on June 23/2020 (hooray!). While this is not her debut novel, it is first in a newer series and will be followed by “We Lie With Death” (publication date to be announced). To all those who may be concerned about reading a self-published book, allow me to put you at ease: some of the best books I have ever read have been self-published first (see: Josiah Bancroft’s “Senlin Ascends”). Do not allow self-publishing to dissuade you! The reality is that it is not easy to get acquired by a large publisher, and the fact that Madson has succeeded in doing so is fantastic. “We Ride The Storm” has a very high quality of prose, and is a pleasure to read. Weak prose gets me upset, and I’m not afraid to point it out (I pay for most of what I review, so I’m no shill; even when I get free review copies, I like to be honest). This book was a pleasure to read.
Let’s look at our characters: Miko, Cassandra, and Rah are our protagonists/POV characters, and each chapter the story structure rotates between each of their points of view. This is something which I enjoyed, because it allows one to see the narrative unfold not just from different individual perspectives, but also from different cultural/geographical perspectives. We as readers are able to piece together more or less what is going on by using each character’s narrative to fill in the gaps of what we may know from only one. Of the three protagonists, I appreciated Rah the most: it was nice to learn about his nomadic culture, and the rites and rituals of his people. He is also quite likable, and fits into the “heroic” template more than the others… he simply cares about his people. Miko also has a clever arc and delves deep into the political intrigue of the Kisian court. I definitely appreciate her as a strong female character, and her viewpoint overall was probably the most interesting/critical to the overall story. Cassandra was my least favorite character for several reasons. Her characterization was, in my opinion, built far too strongly on unpleasant tropes: she is an assassin with a troubled past… she is/has been a prostitute… she is a drug abuser filled with self-loathing… I realize one is not supposed to relate closely to every character/protagonist in a story, but it just felt like this one was so over the top that I could not relate to her at all. She’s just unpleasant and, to me, uninteresting. That being said: this is book 1 of a trilogy, in a story where multiple characters need to share “screen-time”. I fully expect that her character will be developed further in book 2, and I’ll even go so far as to say I am sure Madson will have me enthralled by Cassandra before the end. She’s that good.
Beyond the principal cast, the other characters in the book are all quite well-written in my opinion. I failed to pick out anyone whom I felt was more of a caricature than a character, and the dialogue ran smoothly throughout the text. People felt like people, which is about as big of a compliment as I can give. What do I mean by this? Well, when people speak they feel like legitimate people, not mustache-twirling villains or walking jokes. When I read bad dialogue, it breaks the immersion of the story. Madson’s dialogue feels completely natural, and her characters behave in a way that consistently makes sense. Sometimes kooky dialogue is a good thing, as it reinforces a setting when you are trying for a certain level of absurdity. Madson’s fantasy setting is one of gritty realism, and her style suits it well. The more I think about it, “balanced” seems to be the correct word to describe this work. Everything works together in harmony: the characters are thoughtful, with clear voices, realistic dialogue for their described personality, and consistent behavior; the setting is just detailed enough to provide a sense of satisfaction, and doesn’t bombard the reader with pointless unnecessary jargon, yet it leaves enough to make one want to learn more. It’s not an easy act to juggle, but Madson has done so admirably!
Do I recommend this book? Yes. If you like non-traditional Fantasy with a focus on political intrigue and various aspects of warfare, this is for you. If you enjoy multiple narrative perspectives, characters with a crystal-clear voice, and enjoyable dialogue, this is for you. Did I mention that this book was a joint 2nd place in the 4th Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off? It’s clear to me why Orbit jumped on this acquisition, and good on them for doing it! Madson is definitely one to watch.
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