Kings Of The Wyld – You Get What You Need

30841984This year has been absolutely packed with fantastic sequels, and new series from authors I love. However, in the midst of all the literary titans releasing their work it is important to not overlook the new players entering the game. Every year I have a couple of dark horses on my release tracker that are new books from debut authors that have drawn my attention based on their description. This year one such book is The Kings of the Wyld, by Nicholas Eames. The premise of the book immediately hooked me: in a world where fantasy adventuring parties function like modern day rock bands, a famous band must do a reunion tour to save the leader’s daughter. The only problem is that the members are all old tired men, and they haven’t spoken to each other in a long time. As far as premises go, this is the most intriguing I have seen in awhile, but does it live up to its potential or fall flat?

For me the main draw of this book was the characters. For starters, a large part of the cast is made up of old men and women, something that I wish more authors would do. The band is made up of five characters, each of whom are deeply fleshed out and wonderful to read about. The first half of the book is about getting the band back together. It consists of the group slowly traveling to new locations, fleshing out the world, and re-recruiting the band. The mini-arcs do a great job bringing each band member to life and endearing them to you. All of them are old-timers with a lot of regrets, each not having quite gotten what they wanted out of life. The support cast is also just as good with several recurring characters I was always excited to see show up. The cast is so diverse and imaginative that I can’t picture a reader picking up Kings of the Wyld and not finding someone that they identify with.

On top of all of this the world and plot are nothing to scoff at. As I mentioned earlier the plot is about the band reuniting to save the daughter of their frontman, Gabe. However, the band did not leave on the best of terms (particularly Gabe) and they have a lot of issues to work through. While they work out their personal problems, the group must also deal with the fact that Gabe’s daughter is trapped on the other side of a siege by a huge army; An army that is comprised of classic fantasy monsters and myths. See, in Kings of the Wyld creatures and humans do not get along, competing for space and resources. To deal with this conflict, bands go out and make a name for themselves killing monsters and defending humans. The monsters have been losing ground for ages and have tired of the arrangement, forming a horde to sweep over humanity. While the horde continues to rout opposition, human nations cannot get past their differences and grievances to organize a response. This backdrop, combined with the personal struggles of our band, make for a read that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

The book is a lot of fun. It has an emphasis on humor that makes it a great and upbeat read, while also taking itself pretty seriously so that it has a lot of immersion. The band theme worked out a lot better than I thought it would with various members of the party filling out roles in a traditional band from bass player to booking agent. The world was also designed very well to the point where the existence of bands of adventurers felt natural. The book also has a soundscape that Eames put up on his site that I am a huge fan of. I have to say I have always felt lukewarm about Led Zeppelin, but thanks to the soundscape I have had them on repeat for a month. As I mentioned, the book is very funny and feels like it was written with the goal of entertaining. Despite this, I found the book to be surprisingly impactful in many instances. There is a particular scene in which two lifelong friends find out that one has been hiding essentially that he has cancer from the other, and the reactions and writing broke my heart. Eames feels like he is trying to put a smile on your face, but never goes for the cheap laugh and never sacrifices the story for the sake of humor.

No review is complete without me assessing a book’s flaws, but Kings of the Wyld does not have many. My main complaint would likely be that the book felt a little less tight and polished towards the end. While the narrative during the first half of the story felt focused and smooth, I thought that the last quarter of the book felt a little hectic and didn’t quite have the level of emotional impact that the first three quarters did. That being said, the ending is still fantastic and I am just complaining about some loose stitching on an otherwise beautiful narrative tapestry.

I am excited to announce that we have a new player on the fantasy scene with a lot of potential. The best debut I have read in awhile, Nicholas Eames’ Kings of the Wyld has everything I love in the fantasy genre with some original twists and angles. Thanks to this book I can’t stop listening to classic rock and I am counting the days until we get a sequel. The Quill to Live estatically recommends Kings of the Wyld, it will put music in your heart.

Rating: Kings of the Wyld – 9.0/10

Red Sister – An Interview With Mark Lawrence

red2bsister2bcoverThis is shaping up to be a very strong year for fantasy, with books I am highly anticipating like City of Miracles, Oathbringer, and Tyrant’s Throne coming out. One such book that I have been incredibly impressed with is Mark Lawrence’s debut of a new series, Red Sister. A take on my favorite trope, magic schools, it was a amazing read from start to finish and I can’t wait for the sequel. While I wait patiently for the next book, I got a chance to talk with Lawrence a little bit about his newest work. While he is infuriatingly, and understandably, tight lipped about the second book – he answered a number of my questions about his writing process and Red Sister. Enjoy!

Why nuns? Not that there is anything wrong with nuns, but they were never a fantasy character I thought of much before Red Sister – something that the book has definitely changed about me.

I’m no good with “why?” questions. Because! I guess at some point I decided it would feature a “school” of some sort, then that it would be an all-girls institution. I’ve know people who were taught by nuns at girls’ schools. So nuns.

Something I would love to know more of is what determines if someone is full blooded or not? I initially thought it had to do with being a “pure” blooded hunska or marjal, but that doesn’t seem to be the case as there are people who are multi blooded. Can you elaborate on this?

I tend only to offer what’s in the books in answer to questions. It’s noted in the text that it’s possible to be more than a half-blood in two or more of the races, so clearly it’s not a description of the percentage of whatever blood you carry as >0.5 + >0.5 = >1. It’s simply a description of how much of the power/ability/potential of that race you have. And I guess if it were easy to know what determines that then they wouldn’t need child-takers testing random peasants, they would know from the parents, heritage etc. In our own genetics many regressive traits such as ginger hair will crop up seemingly at random.

What inspired you to make this new world instead of continuing with your Prince of Thorn’s and Fools universe? What made you choose to start something new instead of build out more of that world?

I grow bored. Not easily, but after a while. I very rarely get to the end of any long series I read. I don’t want to write one. It can be commercially sensible to stick to a winning formula, but I don’t have the heart for it. And any series is always an exercise in diminishing returns, if not creatively then in terms of readers. Book 9 will always have fewer readers than book 8.

What have you learned from your previous two trilogies that you applied to Red Sister?

Nothing? With the exception of some basic elements learned long before I wrote any of my published work I’ve never experienced writing as the kind of thing where you learn new skills. When I ice skated I used to go forward, and then I learned to skate backwards and I had a demonstrable new trick. Writing doesn’t feel like that to me. I can’t cite a single writing-thing that I have learned in the last decade.

One area I really felt you stepped up your writing in Red Sister was in the combat. Was there anything you did differently to write, or prepare to write, these sequences?

I never prepare to write. I just write. And no. To me the only difference is that most of the combat described is weaponless, and much of it involves one or more people who can move with extraordinary speed. The physics remains constant and so fights, from the point of view of someone who can move and think much faster than we’re used to seeing, have their own flavour. There are a number of what I call slow-mo descriptions which were fun to write.

Red Sister has a unique take on the emotion of anger. In so many fantasy books, it is always regarded as something that will get you killed. What made you decide to take rage in a different direction in this book?

I don’t think the book has a particular take on it, but certainly Nona is at odds with the idea that fighting is most effective when you are serene and in total control. I guess that just came out of her character. And it’s anger that starts most fights … you’d think it would at least be useful during them.

I know you are a big proponent of Senlin Ascends, by Josiah Bancroft, (we have it coming up in our workflow thanks to your recommendation). Are there any other books, recent or past, that you would recommend?

I really liked The Girl With All The Gifts, but it hardly needs my patronage with huge sales and a film out. The Vagrant by Peter Newman has a lot of originality and I really liked it. It may break rather too many conventions for some readers, but it’s certainly worth a look.

How do we get you to do a signing tour in the US? Do you have any recommendations for bribes or should we just start mailing you miscellaneous things until you come to NYC?

I don’t travel. It wouldn’t take any bribes, just the opportunity. I was asked to an event in London with Robin Hobb this month. I would have loved to go. But I have a very disabled child to look after and carers are incredibly hard to arrange.

http://mark— dont-travel.html

With Blood Upon The Sand – Sandsational

with-blood-upon-the-sand-coverThe Song of the Shattered Sand, by Bradley P. Beaulieu, is a series I probably don’t talk about enough (maybe because every time I do I have to google the series name and Bradley’s name to make sure I get the spelling right). One of the primary issues with it is there is just so much to talk about that I never feel like I have enough time. The first book in the series was Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, a book I felt had a slow start but reached fantastic heights. Bradley just put out the second book in the series, With Blood Upon the Sand, and it’s even better than its predecessor. When I originally reviewed book one I was new to the review game, but with my added experience doing these for two years I can hopefully better give Bradley and his story the props they rightly deserve.

Avoiding spoilers for book one, The Song of the Shattered Sand follows the story of a land of desert. It is a harsh land with limited resources, home to tons of roaming nomads who brave the sands. Long ago, a group of these nomads banded together to build a city at the center of the desert hoping to create stability and wealth. This city was Sharakhai. Twelve tribes with twelve kings came together to make the city, and it was incredibly successful. However, the city started to drain the resources of the desert, and its surrounding countries, in its quest to build an opulent metropolis in the sands. The remaining nomads of the sands resented this, rose up and threatened to overrun and raze the city. In the cities direst hour, the gods of the land joined together, blessed the city and its twelve kings, and helped repel the hordes of nomads. Through these desert gods the kings have been granted the divine right to rule, and govern their paradise with a just and even hand… or so they would have you think. Our story follows the POV of Ceda, a gutter wren in the city of Sharakhai and one of many who chafe under the kings’ absolute rule. The first book in the series focuses on Ceda, and her quest to overthrow the kings from the outside. With Blood Upon the Sand sees Ceda entering the service of the kings to try and take them down from within.

This new book is similar to a magical school story, with Ceda entering the elite personal army of the kings. As I have said before, I love magical schools and this is one of the best. In addition, while the first book focused primarily on Ceda, the second breaks out to a larger cast with more POVs. All the wonderful things about book one are still here in the sequel: the expansive and beautiful world, the deep characters, an exciting plot, the poetic prose, and the frankly beautiful physical book that is just fun to hold. However, the longer I spend with Bradley’s epic fantasy the more I am realizing he’s making something more impressive and complex than I initially realized. First there is Ceda. Ceda is one of the most complex and interesting characters I have read. I constantly change how i feel about her personality and her actions in the book, but that is not because Bradley is inconsistent in his writing. Ceda is just a character who I don’t know how I feel about. As mentioned before, Ceda wants to end the rule of the kings, a quest that her late mother left her. However, unlike most other fantasy quests out there, Ceda is in many ways completely on her own. Ceda doesn’t have a prophecy to work off of, she doesn’t have a kindly mentor standing behind her giving her guidance, she just has a goal and a general direction she wants to move in. It makes her mistakes feel more reasonable and forgivable than other protagonists because it is so easy to place yourself in her ignorant shoes. What this means is that unlike most other epic fantasies, The Song of the Shattered Sand is as much about figuring out what to do as how to do it. This adds a layer of mystery and unpredictability to the books that pervades every chapter.

Furthermore, I am captivated by the land of Sharakhai. Bradley builds in lore, settings, culture, and details of his setting so that I feel like I am learning something new on every page. The story doesn’t have a lot of setup (hence my original comment of a slow start) but as it pushes forward it builds this incredible momentum that makes reading it an experience. He intricately plans the lore, power, and mysteries of the kings and city, while also making it feel organic and random. One of the major pillars of the story is that the kings all have unique powers, and weaknesses, granted to them by the gods. However, unlike many other series the powers (or weaknesses) aren’t know to anyone but the kings. The only information outside their heads on the subject is a series of 12 poems that were lost to time. These poems each tell: the identity of the king, their power, and how to kill them – but they are all in riddle form and the riddles are hard. A lot of the time when you get poems and prophecies in fantasy, it is painfully obvious who they point to – but Bradley’s are both eloquent and maddening as they often feel like they refer to multiple kings and that their powers and weaknesses could be anything, It is a refreshing take on prophecy and every time Ceda identifies a poem to its owner you get this satisfying rush of “it all makes sense now”. The story and world are a mystery wrapped in an enigma and I love peeling back each layer.

On top of beginning wonderfully complex, the entire story is in a grey area. There are more sides of this story than a cube, and I have no idea whose I am on. The more you learn about the kings, the more you can see that “evil tyrants” is an oversimplification. In addition, the noble rebels seeking to overthrow them have multiple subgroups whose goals align a lot less than they initially think. The book has political intrigue oozing out of every pore and shifting through the various players and characters is very satisfying. Finally, the magic and culture of the book is just fun to read. I have never been huge on Middle Eastern fantasy, but Bradley’s adaptation of the setting feels original and like it doesn’t fetishize the culture to a western audience (at least to me). I would love to spend some time talking with Bradley about his inspiration for the work, and what ideas he adapted from existing mythology and what he built for himself.

Despite my glowing praise, the books are not without flaws. Bradley if you are reading this you need a damn appendix, I cannot keep all your characters straight on my own. The pacing of the series is much slower than I am used to, but I am not entirely sure it is a flaw. With Blood Upon the Sand rarely kept me on the edge of my seat, preferring to slip grand reveals unexpectedly into the middle of chapters with little build up. On the other hand, I was never bored. The book might not be the most exciting ever, but it is definitely captivating in a slow and methodical way. The books are incredibly long, and felt it, but I had a really hard time thinking of anything that I would cut. Every scene clearly had a reason, and while the book might have been slimmed slightly, I actually think it was fine the way it was.

The Song of the Shattered Sand is an incredible series running under the radar of most people I know. Despite its slow pacing and quiet personality, it has an enormous amount of substance. I hope this review has gotten you intrigued enough to take a look and brave the sands. If you are looking for a wonderful world, a complex cast, mystery around every corner, and an unforgettable trip into the desert, I recommend you check out Bradley P. Beaulieu’s latest work.

Rating: With Blood Upon the Sand – 9.0/10

The Ninefox Gambit – Take a Chance on Me

9781781084496_custom-670793563aa4d0d709c7000cd24d2fb6ac956c2c-s300-c85One of my favorite fiction tropes is the master strategist – the military general who is a super genius and has all the answers. It is always fun (probably because I am projecting) to see someone trounce everyone around them just using their mind and a good plan. Examples of this include the famous Thrawn from Star Wars (who has a new book this month), Artemis Fowl from the series named after him, and of course the popular Ender from Ender’s Game. The Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee, brings a new entry to the category with Shuos Jedao. Jedao, and his handler Cheris, need to tackle an impossible military challenge in a fascinating and confusing world. So if you like the idea of a tactical master raised from undeath, and chained to a handler, to be used as a weapon in a galaxy spanning conflict where a person’s spirituality and beliefs bend reality around them – you might want to read on.

Before we get any further, I want it understood that Ninefox Gambit is confusing as all hell (intentionally). If you are uncomfortable not knowing what is going on, or don’t like it when authors don’t explain every detail of their world – you will not like this book. Yoon explains only the barest minimum of his world to the point where you will understand that something important is happening, but you often won’t know what it is or why it’s important. However, in this instance – it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The book is exciting, and even when you have no idea what is going on the tone is masterfully manipulated so that you get excited anyway. Yoon uses an immense amount of terminology that you have to work hard to understand – which can be frustrating, in particular at the beginning of the book. As you immerse yourself in the story, you will start to grasp Yoon’s terminology and start to understand the conflict running through the story and what is at stake.

But what is the story? That’s a little complicated. We follow the POV of Kel Cheris, a officer in the Kel army. The empire in Ninefox is separated into six subgroups, each responsible for different parts of running it, and each with different magic granted to them by their membership. The Kels are the army and gain power through battle formations. Saying that last sentence aloud made me feel like it sounds really dumb out of context, but trust me when I say while it’s hard to explain the book it’s really cool when you are in it. The empire has a slight internal problem, one of their impenetrable ‘calendrical’ fortresses has been penetrated. Rebels have taken over what is essentially a religious radio tower that stabilizes and reinforces the empires beliefs to the surrounding areas. This is bad because a rebel set of beliefs in a key node such as this is essentially causing reality, and the empire’s rule, to break down around it – and it’s spreading. To address this issue, the empire picks a group of candidates to come up with solutions to deal with the issue using the weapon of their choice. Cheris, our main character, chooses to resurrect the empire’s best general (who went insane during his final battle) and see if she can use him as a consultant on how to tackle this problem.

As I have said, the plot and world can be confusing. It is hard to comment on the quality of the world building. On the one hand there are so many cool ideas and technologies in Yoon’s book that I was fascinated with my surroundings. On the other hand, the world often feels like Yoon is just throwing out phrases and ideas with little explanation and planning. On the … third ….hand, I will say that I definitely love the characters. Cheris, Jedao, and their support cast bring a lot of life, energy, and excitement to the book. I was heavily invested in their stories and lives, something that helped stay immersed in the book when I had no idea what was going on. The plot starts out confusing, ends with some gained clarity, but remains awesome from beginning to end. In particular the ending of the book did an incredible job setting up the sequel and has left me champing at the bit to find out what I can be confused about next.

The Ninefox Gambit is weird, quirky, and a wild ride that I recommend to almost everyone. If you can let go of the reigns, the book will take you on a wild ride with stunning sites and great characters. In the realm of badass tacticians, Jedao is up there with the best and I cannot wait to see what he and Cheris (who is amazing in her own right) have in store for us next. There is a reason this book made the Hugo ballot this year, and it is much deserved. Go check out the Ninefox Gambit as soon as you can.

Rating: Ninefox Gambit – 9.0/10

Other Great Sites – Please Don’t Leave Me

Sending people to my competition is not exactly the smartest idea I have ever had, but there is some great content out there for fantasy and science fiction readers that you might not be aware of. So for today’s post, I thought I would compile a short list of other resources that I use myself to keep in the know, read awesome reviews, and connect with the reading community.

Bigger sites for news and opinion pieces:

/r/Fantasy – This one is pretty obvious for most of us, but since I pretty much live there I thought it would be worth mentioning. /r/Fantasy is a great compilation forum for news and has some great discussion. Unfortunately, I find it is not a great place for reviews, and I often turn to smaller blogs which I trust more. The side bar has some excellent resources for information on upcoming releases, community events, and info on the genre all stars that every review recommends. – Tor offers a lot, but the best thing it offers is discussion pieces on books new and old, as well as on the genre as a whole. I like to take a short peruse through their articles once a day and often find a great discussion piece or thought starter. While it isn’t a good site for staying up to date on book news, they have in my opinion the best op ed content out there and I highly recommend you take a look.

Unbound Worlds – Penguin Random House’s site and another great place for op ed pieces. Unbound Worlds offers both news and opinion pieces, though they post a lot less frequently than /r/fantasy or Tor. I usually check in with them about once a month, but they provide some great reads – in particular when it comes to their own books (which there are a lot of).

Macmillan Newsletter – The sign up for the newsletter is on the right hand side of the page. I subscribe to a lot of newsletters, but Macmillan takes the cake as they are great at telling me about author events in my area. They aren’t a fantasy and sci-fi only site – but they still have been my best resource for finding out that Sanderson or Danial Abraham are coming through NYC.

HarperVoyagerBooks – A great site that just had a relaunch (and looks gorgeous), Harper Voyager mostly promote their own work – but do a great job with it. They have lots of interesting pieces by their authors and editors about books, current events, and the genre as a whole. I am a big fan of this group as they have a lot of heart and really care about the genre, so I recommend you give them a read.

Smaller sites I usually go for reviews:

Mighty Thor JRS – James is ridiculous – both in the amount of content he produces and its quality. He is a great writer and I love reading his content. We have similar, but varied enough, taste in books that I like to read his opinions of the same books I review to see if we agree. Hes a great guy with a good site and I recommend you check him out.

BiblioSanctum – I think that Biblio does a great job in their critical reviews, and while I often disagree when they don’t like a book, it is rare for me to find I don’t enjoy a book they recommend. I am not a fan on their 5 star system (hence why I use out of ten) as I find it makes it difficult to identify good middle of the road books, but their 5/5s are almost always books I find amazing. They have a talented team of writers and I love binge reading their posts from time to time.

Bookwraiths – So Bookwraiths and I rarely agree on anything (right now he has a review of Red Sister up that breaks my heart). Wendell and I have very different taste, but I think he writes excellent well though out reviews that are impressively detailed compared to what a lot of other people are putting out. It is always important to be open to opposing opinions, especially when rating a book, and I like to think of him as a great counterpoint to my own work. If you are looking someone with a different POV than The Quill to Live Bookwraiths will provide it with high quality writing.

Mark Lawrence – Mark is the author of multiple best selling fantasy series, including the previously mentioned Red Sister, but he also runs a pretty great fantasy blog as well. Mark provides a great window into the world of being and author and helps show a lot of whats under the hood when it comes to writing books. His posts are informative and interesting and I usually read through everything he posts.

The Quill to Live – You knew I was going to do it, stop rolling your eyes. I think what we have going on here is pretty great. As we go into our second year of this site we are working harder to try and provide you more content and more interesting content. If there is anything you readers would like to see more of (or less of) please let me know in the comments or drop me a email through the contact tab. I love hearing from the people who read our stuff and I hope you like reading it too.

Fool’s Gold – A Few Too Many Quirks

27415414I have said it once, and I will say it again, I will give a positive review to any book that can get me to regularly laugh. It is impossible to not enjoy yourself if you are cracking up while you read, which is why humor fantasy has a special place in my heart. Which is why when I saw Fool’s Gold, by Jon Hollins, advertised as a hilarious heist story along the lines of The Hobbit meets Guardians of the Galaxy, I purchased it immediately and entered it into our book club. The question of humor books are always threefold: Is it actually funny? Is the book well written and interesting enough to stand without its humor? If no, is the humor good enough to forgive it it’s mistakes? Join me as I break down this new fantasy comedy and whether it lived up to its hype.

Is it actually funny? Short answer, yes it is. Fool’s Gold tells the story of a group of five individuals down on their luck in a land oppressed by dragons. They all end up in a moonlit cave together by chance, and formulate a plan to rob some of the dragon overlords in this corner of the country. It goes poorly, in a hilarious manner. The humor in the book had me in stitches often. While the plot follows three increasingly difficult heists, the soul of the book is in its cast of five thieves. First we have Will, a farmer who had his life taken from him by a dragon’s taxes and who dreams of revenge. Next there is the mercenary duo, Lette and Balur. Lette is a merc with a heart of gold searching for a better way to live and one last score. Balur is a hunk of muscle looking for a good time and to prove he is man enough to kill a dragon. Then there is Firkin, a crazed older alcoholic looking for his next drink after he had his life ruined by the dragons. Finally there is Quick, a scholar, and the straight man of the group acting as the conscious of the team. Each of them is funny in their own way, but the majority of the heavy lifting for me fell to Lette and Balur. They were consistently funny and any section surrounding them proved to be a great time for me. Will’s sections were usually great, but very occasionally had parts that fell flat. Firkin was rarely funny, but I also rarely had a problem with him and he ended up feeling very neutral as a character. I wanted Quirk to fall into a damn lava pit and die as soon as convenient, but we will come back to this.

Is the book well written and interesting enough to stand without its humor? Definitely. Despite my problems with Quirk, the character writing was generally decent and the worldbuilding was incredible. Fool’s Gold only takes place in a small corner of Hollin’s world, but that corner is absolutely brimming with life and culture. The dragons themselves were very interesting, and I really liked the short vignettes into their minds. The book is filled with pop culture references (such as the chapter titles like “We need a bigger boat”) and satire about the fantasy genre which I found fun. The heists themselves are exciting and amusing, and though I thought the grand finale could have been a little more grand (it was a slight bit obvious what was happening, making the reveal so-so), I was definitely satisfied with the plot and wanted more. The big issue I had with the book was with one of the five leads, Quirk.

Is the humor good enough to forgive it it’s mistakes? Other than being a tad repetitive, the major issue for me with Fool’s Gold is that Quirk is an unenjoyable character to read about. Quirk is a mage with a sordid past who tried to remake herself into a scholar who studies dragons. She acts as the straight man to the group, trying to steer them towards the greater good and ridiculing them when they act selfishly. The major issue with this is Quirk has massive self-control issues, and then is very self righteous about how great she is – which none of the characters give her a hard time for. It makes her an unpleasant and condescending POV to be around and it sometimes sucks the fun out of the book. I sense she was written this way to be satirical, but I think she falls short of her role and ends up simply being unenjoyable.

However, despite my complaints I definitely think Fool’s Gold is a good book and a blast to read. With some small adjustments to the pacing, plot, and character identities it could go from good to great and I am excited to read the sequel, False Idols, sometime this year. It is has some minor issues, but the world is exciting and the humor is on point. If you are looking for some good laughs and a fun heist, pick up Fool’s Gold and give it a spin.

Rating: Fool’s Gold – 8.0/10

The Heart Of Stone – Surprisingly Human

51uvsoqokdlBack in 2009, one of the best fantasy video games to date came out; Dragon Age: Origins. In DA:O there was a DLC party member named Shale that I fell in love with (which also made me hate DLC as she was awesome and should be for everyone). Shale was a golem, a stone automaton who had been granted artificial consciousness by a master craftsman. Shale had a really unique worldview and personality that I really loved, and I have carried those feelings with me as I continue to burn through all the fantasy books I can find. Golems, when done well, can showcase interesting takes on humanity and what it means to be human. As such, when Ben Galley emailed me asking if I wanted to read an ARC of his new upcoming novel, The Heart of Stone, about a war golem carving through his enemies and searching for purpose, I obviously said yes.

The Heart of Stone (tHoS) follows the story of Task, a war golem and the last of his kind. Task was build for a specific conflict roughly 400 years prior, but has outlived the war, and even the people waging it. The Last of the war golems, he has drifted from owner to owner and conflict to conflict until he has arrived at a new land embroiled in a civil war where our story begins. Task has a lot of personality, and frankly I love him. He is ironically one of the most human characters I have read about recently and it will not take long for you to grow attached to him. After seeing essentially centuries of war and subjugation, Task is understandably quite jaded when it comes to his opinion of people. His thoughts and commentary on human nature and reactions are excellent, and bring a lot of thoughtful psychology to the story. Adding to this is Task’s supporting cast of characters that all bring just as much to the table. Whether it be a young girl who is surprisingly wise, a drunk knight whose actual fighting skill is never clear, an armchair general trying to prove his father wrong, or a spy who seems to be on no one’s side but her own – the cast brings a lot of life and excitement to the book.

While the characters are the best thing about tHoS, the worldbuilding is nothing to scoff at either. tHoS is a standalone, which confuses me because Galley has done a frankly exorbitant amount of background work for a world that will only be used in one book. All of Task’s past conflicts are vividly described and while the current plot takes place in the north east corner of the world, I knew a lot about all of it by the end (in a good way). In addition, the current civil war that Task is embroiled in is very fleshed out and well developed. While Galley’s world feels like a shitty, war-torn place to live, it is also interesting to read about. The story is also particularly interesting because our narrator is a 10 foot stone golem that kicks absolute ass.

Speaking of which, the combat and general actions that Task engages in are described in vivid and exciting detail. In battle, Task is terrifying, and that really comes through in Galley’s writing. Galley manages to find the thin line between awe striking and revolting, and straddles it when it comes to how Task just tears through people like paper. On top of this, Galley does a great job just making every small movement and interaction Task has with people interesting. Whether it be dumb people trying to give him shit, or scared people giving him space, or kind people trying to find the mind beneath the stone, it was just fun to see Task interact with everything around him.

However, the book was not flawless. My one big gripe with the book is that it feels like it ends extremely abruptly. I was not at all done with the story when Galley put his pen down, and it felt like such a shame to flesh out such a large interesting world and only go into detail in a tiny corner of it. Additionally, while I found the story of the civil war very satisfying – I was not in love with the secondary plot involving magic users (which I will leave vague for spoilers sake). It certainly wasn’t bad, but I don’t think it added that much to the story compared to the main focus of the war and Task’s journey.

Regardless of flaws, I really enjoyed The Heart Of Stone and wish that there was a sequel coming. Ben has mentioned that he might do some short stories to give a few more glimpses into his world, but I hope he writes a sequel in addition. If you are looking for a story about a stone golem with a lot of spirit, I recommend you pick up The Heart of Stone when you can.

Rating: The Heart of Stone – 8.0/10