Review: We Ride the Storm
Book titles are crafted to sell the book. They try to strike the right note of alerting readers to the genre while pulling new readers in. There are book title fads (remember when every book title was one word long?) and trends and they are not (as I used to assume) whatever the author thought was the best title for the book.
Devin Madson’s epic fantasy, WE RIDE THE STORM (Amazon), is an exception. The first installment in the The Reborn Empire series, this book was originally self-published, and Madson kept her original title. It’s a great title for the novel, where the three POV characters are thrust into the metaphorical storm of war, each of them desperately trying to use newly slippery, shifting allegiances to their advantage.
A fragile peace exists between the kingdoms of Kisia and Chiltae. Miko is a princess of the Kisian empire. The current emperor delays naming either her or her twin brother as his heir, because they are not his true children. Determined not be overlooked or discounted, Miko plays courtly games of intrigue to gain the throne, but her brother takes matters into his own hands. He attempts to kill Dom Villius, the Chiltaen man whom Miko has been promised to. This attack shatters the peace between Kisia and Chiltae and destroy’s Miko’s careful plans, forcing her to show her hand and fight for her claim to the throne.
Cassandra is a prostitute, with a lucrative side-gig as an assassin. She’s used to blood, and she’s used to hearing the voices of the dead in her head, including a particularly insistent voice that accompanies her wherever she goes. When a mysterious man promises Cassandra a way to rid herself of the voice in her head in exchange for killing a man, she can’t say no. Of course, Cassandra’s mark turns out to be Dom Villius, on his way to Kisia to marry Princess Miko and secure the peace between Chiltae and Kisia. This complicates Cassandra’s job, but not as much as when she discovers that Dom Villius doesn’t seem to be able to die. Cassandra’s simple assassination mission has gotten her caught in a web of intrigue, and while Cassandra knows what she wants, the voice in her head doesn’t always share the same goals.
Rah is a Levanti rider, who rails against a wave of change that missionaries have brought to the plains. Disheartened at the slow destruction of the Levanti way of life, Rah leads a group of Levanti riders away, seeking a new life. They are captured almost immediately by the Chiltaen army, and join a large group of other Levanti who have left the plains. At their head is Gideon, a man who was once like a brother to Rah. But Gideon has different goals now, goals that Rah finds incomprehensible and at odds with the Levanti way of life. Rah’s principles are pushed and compromised at every turn, but as the Chiltaen army with their new Levanti infantry march into Kisia, Rah must choose between the way of life he has always known and his loyalty to Gideon.
A prostitute turned assassin. An angry princess denied her inheritance. These are common tropes in epic fantasy and while both Cassandra and Miko’s stories evolve to have more complicated, intriguing throughlines, it was not their stories that initially drew me into WE RIDE THE STORM, but Rah’s. Madson’s worldbuilding around the Levanti culture is interesting, and Rah’s hard-headedness makes him compelling.
While WE RIDE THE STORM begins with tired tropes, Madson breathes life into them, creating memorable characters and a complex situations.
The book continued to feel a little generic for the first third, but once the status quo had been broken, Madson put her characters in increasingly complex situations with increasingly bad choices to make, which pulls you through the novel. Madson doesn’t shy away from grim and gruesome situations, and she leaves each of her characters utterly changed or defeated.
I would have loved even a few more shades of world building. Madson gives readers enough to frame the conflict, but a touch more history would have helped clarify the stakes of the conflict earlier in the book. The trend in epic fantasy seems to be a much leaner approach to information, which I love, but sometime I just want a good ol’ info dump.
Madson is especially cagey with details about all of the magic in her book. Some of the most interesting moments in WE RIDE THE STORM involved Cassandra literally fighting herself as the voice in her head appears to take over her body. Madson doesn’t give us any details or even hint at a reason for Cassandra’s condition in this book and I’m interested to find out more.
While WE RIDE THE STORM begins with tired tropes, Madson breathes life into them, creating memorable characters and a complex situations that promise difficult and interesting decisions ahead. WE RIDE THE STORM is a solid first installment that poses enough interesting question to make sure I’ll be returning for the sequel.
- Recommended Age: 13+
- Language: Some, infrequent
- Violence: Gory battles, assassination, rape
- Sex: mentioned offscreen, some detail