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We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson
4.25
Book Name: We Ride the Storm
Author: Devin Madson
Publisher(s): Orbit
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: January 28, 2020 (US) June 25, 2020 (UK)

I originally read We Ride the Storm when it was a finalist in the fourth Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO), and I could immediately see why it fared so well in that competition (you can read the Fantasy-Faction review here). I loved it well enough that when Orbit picked it up, I jumped at the chance to read and review the revised edition, and I wasn’t disappointed. The new version is both sharper and smarter than the original, with better pacing and a more satisfying climax. It was a tale told well; now it is a story that keeps you turning pages and leaves you itching for the next installment.

The title of the series is Reborn Empire, but the first book is about divisions and broken ties within and around each of the three protagonists. Cassandra, an aging beauty who earns her living as a prostitute and assassin, was rejected by her family when she was a child because another soul shares her body, and through this spirit, she hears the dead. Rah, the leader of an exiled band of horse warriors, has a sense of honor so rigid he cannot bend, and every decision fractures him a little more. And Miko is an ungainly princess who lives in constant peril because the emperor whose surname she shares is not her true father, and he knows it.

Each protagonist’s story is told in first person, and one of the outstanding aspects of Madson’s writing is the way each main character’s voice comes through crisp and clear. If you flipped to a random page and started reading, you’d know immediately whose point of view you were reading. Cassandra is a jaded and profane survivor who does nothing but what’s in her own self-interest. Rah is kind and stalwart but that intractable sense of honor is a potentially fatal flaw. By necessity, Miko is a survivor too, but her ruthlessness is in service of her people.

The first change readers of the original will notice is the first line, which used to be:

It’s harder to sever a head than people think.

That was, and still is, the opening of Rah’s storyline, but the first chapter in the book now belongs to Miko. When I began the revision, I was disappointed with this change (who doesn’t want to know more about severed heads?), but before I’d finished the new first chapter, I agreed it was the right move. It is Miko’s Kisian empire that is undergoing revolutionary change—being reborn—in the Reborn Empires trilogy, and this rebirth really begins with a secret plot hatched by Miko and her twin brother to overthrow their father. That scheme goes awry very quickly, forcing Miko to make choices that deeply divide Kisia. Yet these changes, as fraught with danger as they are, may be the only way Miko can save her nation from the invaders.

In addition to the new opening that better explains Miko’s tenuous position at court, in the new version, Miko’s story is better laid out, eliminating some unlikely aspects that required a leap of faith (or a blind eye) on the readers’ part, and giving us Miko’s point of view of a key battle in a chapter so vividly illustrated I stayed up well past midnight to catch every last stroke of the sword. The revised narrative heightened my respect and admiration for Miko as well as my sympathy. I liked her before; but in this version she earned my love.

I always loved Cassandra—she was my favorite character in the original version, and I’m glad to say her new and improved story arc wiped out my sole disappointment with the original (which was Cassandra’s story ended too early and abruptly). We meet her the same way as before, when a mysterious stranger hires her for a job—a murder that will spark the war between Kisia and Chiltae. Yet we get to know Cassandra and her passenger spirit better this time around, with deeper insights into her motivations and more glimpses into the possible reasons for her divided soul. Cassandra is so brilliantly written that one can’t help root for her, even as she incites war and brings about the death of thousands.

Much as I love the two women, Rah remains the most sympathetic character in the book. After his band of horse warriors is forcibly conscripted into the army invading Kisia, the growing tension between him and his commander—who had been like an older brother to Rah back home—leads him to question every decision. Still, he clings to his faith in the gods, stubbornly carrying out the sacred ritual beheadings that horrify his Chiltaen masters. Thanks to Madson’s deep examination of his character, it’s easy to accept Rah acts out of compassion, not savagery, when he takes a head. She makes us believe he isn’t mutilating a body but liberating a soul. In the revision, Rah’s conflict with his commander unfolds in a way that is both more natural and more dramatic, which makes their ultimate face-off all the more poignant.

Madson’s writing is bold, vigorous, and filled with passion. She is economical in her descriptions but manages to convey motivations clearly and emotions powerfully. It’s the sort of writing that shines a bright light on character and action without getting in the way.

We Ride the Storm sweeps the reader into a maelstrom of political intrigue, battle and blood, and hope for a better future. Whether you’ve traveled with these heroes before or are mounting up the first time, you’re in for a hell of a ride.

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One Comment

  1. I was a little unsure about the new opening, too, because the original had such a great hook. But that does remind me of what a famous SF writer (maybe Damon Knight; maybe not) said, that if you have a great opening line then your story starts at the top of page 10. Which is to say that, I guess, that just because something is a great hook, that doesn’t mean it’s the right place for the story to actually start.

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