Writing and reading is a subjective art. What some folks will absolutely love, others will dislike. It is a bit like Marmite in the UK—normal people dislike it intensely, but some weird folks actually enjoy the taste of warm road surface and fresh roadkill upon their tongue. To each their own, I suppose.

We Ride the Storm is the eight of the finalists we are reviewing, and our second-place pick for finalist! We’ve nine books to read and review, chosen by blogs all over the fantasy-sphere and each with their own idiosyncratic taste in fiction. We’re reading them, noting our thoughts, and scoring them. We’ll take an average of individual judges scores as our final rating.


War built the Kisian Empire and war will tear it down. And as an empire falls, three warriors rise.

Caught in a foreign war, Captain Rah e’Torin and his exiled warriors will have to fight or die. Their honour code is all they have left until orders from within stress them to breaking point, and the very bonds that hold them together will be ripped apart.

Cassandra wants the voice in her head to go away. Willing to do anything for peace, the ageing whore takes an assassination contract that promises answers, only the true price may be everyone and everything she knows.

A prisoner in her own castle, Princess Miko doesn’t dream of freedom but of the power to fight for her empire. As the daughter of a traitor the path to redemption could as easily tear it, and her family, asunder.

As an empire dies, they will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood.


This is a book that appeals to us because it isn’t set in a fictionalised fantasy Europe, but somewhere else, somewhere reminiscent of a place further to the east. It is different, and we like different. Of course, when an author does different, they have to work five times as hard to create a world and culture to which the reader can relate and I’m happy to say Madson succeeds.

Told from three first-person points of view, We Ride the Storm is the first book in a trilogy that promises to be epic on all fronts. Each character’s journey interweaves and there is always something happening for one of the characters while set-ups and foreshadowing are happening in another. This keeps the interest up and the pace moving.

Rah is the leader of a group of nomad horsemen who have fled or been exiled from their home. They are not the first, nor likely the last, but they are proud in their traditions and unbending in their beliefs. Seeking mercenary work in a land far away they can start a new life but keep their traditions alive. There are some deft political and motivational revelations along the way and the interplay between tradition and their new reality was interesting. Our judges felt that whilst Rah’s story begins slow, it develops throughout the book and becomes one of the more interesting aspects as it nears the conclusion. One judge (me) made a note that Rah comes across as a ‘sanctimonious prat’ however it is that desire to hold on to the past rather than confront the future which drives this.

Miko, a princess of the Empire, is more of a blank slate at the beginning. She is at the whim and behest of all those around her, and even though she is involved in the planning of a revolution she cannot make decisions or take actions. It is an interesting take on the role of women in the fictional society, the notional power she holds yet being unable to wield it in the way she wishes. This does mean that throughout a good portion of the book she lacks agency and is somewhat being carried by the winds of the burgeoning war. By the end she does get a lot more interesting when she starts to think about the consequences of her action and wrest back control. In that regard, it is a satisfying character arc.

Cassandra is a lady of morally dubious values with multiple personality disorder, at least that is how it seems to begin. A more consistently interesting character, for most of our judges, throughout the book Cassandra brings threats, danger, unpredictability and the hints of magic. Though described as a whore, she is really an assassin, sleeping with the men she later kills. There is a mystery and a need at the heart of Cassandra and her alter-ego, which develops as the book progresses. At one point it suddenly becomes clear that there is lot more to the alter-ego than just a personality. There is also, because of that, a lot of internal conflict along the way.

There is a fourth character, introduced early on around which the whole book hinges. He really is the linchpin, the central character of the story but this only becomes clear near the end and leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions. A sudden elevation, a magical power that is never explained, and an appearance that removes or rather derails the three main characters aims.

All of the judges experienced some confusion, especially early on. It was hard to pick the characters apart and in each new chapter we were a little lost as to who was narrating the story. Perhaps having some character hooks, each speaks in a different cadence, rhythm or something to draw them further apart—but this is always going to be a challenge in books with more than one first person point of view. Or more simply character names as chapter titles. There were symbols to denote each character, but many of our judges didn’t realise what they were until 40% in (or around 80% for me. I was a little slow—it has been said before).

The worldbuilding is excellent with three cultures drawn into conflict by history and the fact they just have different world views. They don’t mesh seamlessly, and this is true of the real world which gives a life, a reason to the inevitable conflict. A few times there are little things that draw the reader from the culture—at one point, amongst the political intrigue, a character refers to the others as “chaps”, as an example, which was a colloquialism that didn’t seem to fit with the Asian cultures being depicted.

Minor gripes aside, We Ride the Storm builds nicely to a fine conclusion and a cliffhanger for the next in the series. Great worldbuilding, excellent battles, and characters which, by the end, you can invest in. Certainly, one of the standout books in this year’s SPFBO.

– – –

Congratulations to Devin Madson for making it to second place in our final round! With We Ride the Storm scoring 9/10 stars, we unfortunately have to say goodbye to our first-round pick, Ruthless Magic by Megan Crewe. You can see our scores below and visit Mark Lawrence’s website for the total scores from all participating sites. You can also click here, to jump to our pick for the first place finalist of the 4th Annual Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off!

  • Aching God by Mike Shel = 6
  • The Anointed by Keith Ward = 3
  • The Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss = 8
  • Orconomics: A Satire by J. Zachary Pike
  • Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc = 4
  • Ruthless Magic by Megan Crewe = 8.5
  • Sowing by Angie Grigaliunas = 4
  • Sworn to the Night by Craig Schaefer = 6
  • Symphony of the Wind by Steven McKinnon = 6
  • We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson = 9

Again, it is important to note that these are just the judges’ opinions on the samples we read. Others may view the books differently, that’s what makes writing and reading so much fun (and so infuriating).

Our judges are: G R Matthews, Julia Sarene, David Zampa, Jessica Juby, Rachel McCoy, Rakib Khan, and J C Kang. You can read more about each of them here.

Any queries should be directed to G R Matthews (me), via DM (Facebook/Twitter) or via the Fantasy-Faction website.


By Geoff Matthews

G. R. Matthews began reading in the cot. His mother, at her wits end with the constant noise and unceasing activity, would plop him down on the soft mattress with an encyclopaedia full of pictures then quietly slip from the room. Growing up, he spent Sunday afternoons on the sofa watching westerns and Bond movies after suffering the dual horror of the sounds of ABBA and the hoover (Vacuum cleaner) drifting up the stairs to wake him in the morning. When not watching the six-gun heroes or spies being out-acted by their own eyebrows he devoured books like a hungry wolf in the dead of winter. Beginning with Patrick Moore and Arthur C Clarke he soon moved on to Isaac Asimov. However, one wet afternoon in a book shop in his hometown, not far from the standing stones of Avebury, he picked up the Pawn of Prophecy and started to read - and now he writes fantasy! Seven Deaths of an Empire coming from Solaris Books, June 2021. Agent: Jamie Cowen, Ampersand Agency. You can follow him on twitter @G_R_Matthews or visit his website at www.grmatthews.com.

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