Back 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