Book Review: We Ride The Storm by Devin Madson
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of The Reborn Empire
Publisher: Orbit (June 23, 2020)
Length: 528 pages
We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson was a great read, with a pretty inspiring story behind it too! Originally self-published, the book was vaulted into the spotlight following its success in Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, where it advanced into the finals. The competition has helped many other authors and their work achieve recognition, and in this case it was well deserved. Inspired by Asian cultures, this slow-burn fantasy epic has plenty to offer.
The story focuses on three central characters. Miko Ts’ai is a princess and potential heir to the Crimson Throne of the Empire of Kisia, a realm ravaged by a recent coup by her stepfather. Under close watch at all times, she is practically a prisoner in her own castle, her life in constant danger. Then there’s Captain Rah, a warrior in exile with the remnants of his Levanti clan who struggle to survive on the borderlands where the fierce fighting forces them to choose sides. To keep his people safe, the tribesmen find they can no longer refuse to be a part of the conflict. And finally, there is Cassandra Marius, an assassin with a mysterious magical voice in her head. Used to moving in shady circles, she knows her game and plays it well, but when confronted with a possible cure to her affliction, she has no choice but to accept a dangerous contract that may lead to the fall of the empire.
Our main characters start off unconnected, and their backgrounds couldn’t be any more different. However, all three are bound by circumstance. They are also each trapped in their own situations, simply trying to keep from drowning in the chaos around them. Soon, their paths will intersect as the political tensions between the divided factions come to boiling point, weaving together the fates of a princess, a warrior, and an assassin.
As I alluded to earlier, this was a slow-burn fantasy, and admittedly it took a while for me to settle into a comfortable rhythm with the cycle of perspective chapters. The introduction does a decent job familiarizing you with our three main characters, but it took a bulk of the novel’s first half to give a good sense of who they really are. The story’s take off was a little bumpy as a result, though the pacing remained strong and never felt like a slog, and things smoothed out once we had everything in place. If you read a lot of epic fantasy, the multiple POV format will be pretty old hat, and even though the plot may take its sweet time, we eventually get to a point where each thread generates enough steam to keep interest high.
For avid fantasy fans, reading this will also feel rather routine, I think. We Ride the Storm contains a number of genre tropes, though to her credit, Madson tackles them in an engaging way that doesn’t feel too clichéd. She doesn’t delve too deeply into the world-building either, but that’s actually a good thing. There’s been a whole raft of Asian-inspired fantasy releases as of late, and keeping things somewhat vague works in the book’s favor by allowing the setting to develop its own identity in the reader’s mind. The various cultures of this world have extremely unique spiritual customs and practices, for example, and we get to appreciate them without a million other ideas and details to distract. As much as I enjoy a well-developed world, it’s better not to overwhelm the reader with description, especially at this stage, when you want your characters to take precedence.
And believe me, it’s Miko, Rah, and Cassandra you’ll want to read about. A story may be packed to the gills with everything from court intrigue to pitched battles, but without the characters giving the content its heart and soul, it would be meaningless. It’s here that all the buildup in the first half finally pays off, as the plot gains momentum and rockets towards a stunning climax and conclusion. All of the relationships, the entanglements, the bargains and the compromises, they all come to fruition at a critical moment as motives are finally made clear.
Yet despite this enjoyable finish, the final pages tease even more still, and it’s the perfect kind of ending to leave you satisfied but also hungering for more. I’m so jazzed to read the sequel now, as you can imagine, as I think anyone would be following such an epic journey of discovery, intrigue, and adventure. All in all, We Ride the Storm is a masterful opener to The Reborn Empire series and is an excellent reflection of what the fantasy genre should strive for. Absolutely worth checking out.