SPFBO Review: We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

We Ride the Storm is one of the finest works of grimdark fantasy I’ve ever read. Devin Madson has masterfully crafted a world that is both intricately detailed and brutally unforgiving. Though the characters go through hell in this novel, there’s an underlying element of hope that prevents the story from feeling too hopeless.

The book kicks off with a vivid description of Rah e’Torin, leader of the Second Swords of Torin, sawing off the head of a fallen warrior. Rather than simply providing shock-and-awe violence for the sake of “realism,” this scene manages to provide backstory on the Levanti culture, introduce and flesh out the key characters in Rah’s early story, and set the stage for conflict soon to come.

Rah is an incredible character, and his unwavering sense of honor manages to get him into trouble more often than not. He holds the Levanti traditions sacred, even when the rest of his people do not.

There are three main viewpoint characters, with each point of view being told in first person. They don’t have much in common and each come from a separate culture, but they all struggle to claim what power they can at the fringes of political upheaval. Their separate storylines gradually begin to converge over the course of the book. And as much as I enjoyed Rah, he’s probably my least favorite of the three. Miko and Cassandra are some of my favorite characters in fantasy, period.

Miko is a princess of the Kisian Empire. She’s also a hostage, unable to leave the palace at will. Miko’s an excellent example of a strong female character who is more than just physically strong—though she is physically formidable, displaying a skill for archery that would put Katniss to shame. As a princess, Miko has to thrive in a complicated political structure and learn how to be a compelling leader. Her character arc is a joy to read and when you hit that one scene—trust me, you can’t miss it—you’ll be hard-pressed not to name Miko your favorite character.

Then there’s Cassandra, the whore-turned-assassin navigating the dregs of society and addicted to drugs to drive out the parasitic voice in her head. She could easily be an unlikable antihero, but something about the way she’s written keeps you emotionally invested from the start. She’s my personal favorite character in We Ride the Storm, and our best glimpse of the world’s magic system.

Madson plays her cards close to the vest, only offering hints at the world’s soul-based magic system. This is very much a low fantasy story, with occasional displays of magic. When you see them, I think you’ll agree the wait was worth it. There’s a character known for being a hermit mad scientist that studies souls to understand magic, and I can’t wait to learn more about that.

The world feels like it’s based off of Feudal Japan, though it’s more of an inspiration than a straight adaptation. Similarly, the various cultures feel complex and real, all without being direct analogues to actual cultures.

Madson has said she doesn’t see the “movie in your mind” and thus doesn’t go into great detail with her imagery and description. That said, she manages to utterly capture the feel of each scene and I felt as if I could picture every scene vividly.

Fans of Kate Elliot, Robin Hobb, and George R.R. Martin will likely find much to love in We Ride the Storm. Though this book takes place after The Vengeance Trilogy, no prior knowledge is needed. We Ride the Storm is a strong contender in this year’s Self Published Fantasy Blog Off. And if she wins, it wouldn’t be the first time Madson has won a prestigious fantasy award, having won the 2017 Aurealis Award for her novella, In Shadows We Fall.

The sequel, We Lie With Death (how awesome are these titles?), is due to release later this year. In addition, a webserial and audio drama set in the same universe are also scheduled to begin in 2019. Together, the three of these stories make Madson’s universe one of my most anticipated fantasy projects of the year.

SPFBO Rating: 9.0

Character (25 points) 22
Worldbuilding (20 points) 17.5
Plot (15 points) 14
Pacing (10 points) 9
Prose (5 points) 4
Dialogue (5 points) 4
Editing (5 points) 5
Presentation (5 points) 5
Professionalism +1
Personal Enjoyment (10 points) 8.5
Total Score 90.0 (5 stars)

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