Book Review: The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley
I received a review copy from the author. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: BenGalley.com (March 30, 2017)
Length: 406 pages
Maybe it was my mood, maybe it was the timing, or maybe it was just the nature of this book itself, but for some reason The Heart of Stone took me a long time to read. That said, I really enjoyed it. The story is not just about war and fighting, as the description had initially led me to believe. Amidst the action, we also have a lot of adventure and intrigue, as well as a number of unexpected twists in perspective and moments of pure emotion.
The story follows Task, a creature known as a Windcut Stone Golem. Built to be weapon of war by a long-ago creator, he is the last of his kind but also unlike any that came before or after him, for deep within that flinty exterior is a very real heart and soul. Task feels. He thinks. He dreams. However, for as long as he can remember, he has been suppressing that part of him in order to serve his purpose as a killing machine. For four hundred years, Task has been passed from army to army, bound by an ancient magic to obey the commands of his masters. He has fought in many wars, taken countless lives in battle, and seen enough examples of human avarice to know that this cycle of violence will never end. For a long time, he has believe that it is best to simply keep to himself and do as he is ordered.
But now, Task has been brought out once more to serve a new master in a bitter civil war between the crown and a fractured group of rebel nobles. Fighting on the side of the Royalists, he winds up being under the command of Huff Dartridge, a ruthless general who will go to any length to achieve victory over the enemy Fading. Not to be cowed though, the other side also has a secret weapon, acquiring the services of the Knight of Dawn whose reputation as a dragon slayer is sure to make him a formidable foe against a stone golem.
Still, as the war wages on, Task finds that his magically-bound loyalties are becoming tested as Huff’s demands grow more unreasonable and cruel by the day. In spite of himself, he also finds himself growing emotionally attached to some of the men and women he fights with. In particular, he strikes up a friendship with a young stable girl named Lesky, who teaches Task that there may be more to his existence than simply destruction and killing, and for the first time in centuries, Task finds himself pondering his purpose and questioning the nature of the war he is forced to fight.
Ben Galley is an author I’ve wanted to try for a while—or more precisely, ever since I first heard of him a few years ago in the inaugural Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off in which his book Bloodrush scored very highly with the blogger judges. I’m quite glad I finally got to read his work, because I really enjoy his style of writing and the way he goes deep into the hearts and minds of his characters. It is especially important in a novel like this, which features a non-human protagonist made of magic and stone. The people around Task may dismiss him as a mindless beast, but in truth, he possesses far more humanity than even some of the actual human characters in this book. It was a pleasure to get to know him, seeing through his eyes and finding out his deepest thoughts and desires.
I also really liked the plot. While it was not as evenly paced as I would have preferred, I did enjoy the story’s incredible battle sequences as well as many of the slower, more introspective sections in between. In fact, I found these quieter moments to be just as important as the action, if not more so, since so much of this book was about Task discovering himself and learning to be his own master. I had a great time watching the relationships develop between him and the other characters, especially the special bond he has with Lesky, who was one of my favorites. There’s also plenty of political intrigue in this tale, and a formidable villain whose machinations lend this novel a healthy dose of suspense by keeping you guessing at their endgame every step of the way.
All told, Heart of Stone is a solidly written and fascinating dark fantasy novel, one I would highly recommend to readers who enjoy character driven stories and reading about compelling non-human protagonists. It’s true that it’s a bit of a slow-builder, but I think it’ll get easier to appreciate the intricate details of the plot once all the pieces fall into place. Despite my quibbles about the pacing, ultimately this is a very engaging, unique, and wonderful book. Ben Galley has a real knack for this, and I look forward to reading more by him in the future.