We Ride the Storm – The Reborn Empire: Book One by Devin Madson,
Orbit, £8.99, P/B, 474pp.
Reviewed by Steve Dean
Read this in your best James Earl Jones Voice – “The Kisian Empire is divided, held together by the will of the god-emperor. When an act of betrayal shatters an alliance with the neighbouring land of Chiltae, all that has been won comes crashing down.” Ok, you can stop now, or carry on your choice.
In this book, we follow the three threads of the three main characters; Cassandra, the nymphomaniac assassin who might or might not be possessed by something, Miko, princess of Kisia who’s constantly fighting against being a woman, and Rah, swordmaster and captain of a small band of horse warriors. (That’s warriors riding horses, not horses with weapons.) They inhabit a world that’s more research than invention. We have a pseudo western European kingdom, a feudal Japan-ish empire and a nomadic tribe with vaguely Egyptian names from somewhere in between, all squashed into one. It isn’t bad, and it mostly works for the story.
As you’ve probably guessed, our three heroes are soon plunged into war, either directly or indirectly, as the three nations variously form alliances, betray each other, and generally play political games for personal gain. (sound familiar?) Things go wrong very quickly for our heroes, who soon wish they’d stayed at home.
This volume is competently written and well-plotted for the most part. Despite the lack-lustre world-building, the story is readable, and the various threads hang together well. As this is book one of a presumed trilogy, there’s going to be a certain amount of set up for the other books, but it’s still a mostly complete story.
Now, we come to the (expected?) fly in the ointment. This could have been a competent if not great book if not for one thing, well, three things, and that’s the heroes. Never have I met such an arrogant, gullible, whiny, incompetent and selfish bunch of heroes, and I’m not just talking about at the beginning of the story, but all the way through. For example (mild spoiler alert) the assassin knowingly saves the life of the person she’s been paid to kill; the swordmaster, when challenged to a fight by an underling, wins accidentally by tripping over; and the princess spends most of her time moaning about living in a palace and living vicariously through her brother. By the end of the book, I was left thinking they really got what they deserved, and I don’t care what happens next. Maybe, in the next volume, they get their heads out of their backsides and sort themselves out, but that doesn’t help this book.