I was lucky enough to win a copy of We Ride the Storm from the author who was commemorating the surprise #kiill typo in the UK edition. This novel is the first instalment in a stand-alone quartet following the events of The Vengeance Trilogy. It has received a lot of attention having been a runner-up in the 2018 Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off before being re-published by Orbit this year.
If you’re reading this post we probably run in the same bookish crowd, so you’ve likely either read the book already or come across a tonne of reviews. But, if I readz, I blogz, so here’s my thoughts.
“To the Torin I give my soul. I am the Sword that hunts so your hands may be clean. I am the Sword that kills so your soul may be light. I am the Sword that dies so you may live!”
We Ride the Storm is the story of a princess, a warrior and an assassin, worlds apart but caught on opposing sides of the same growing conflict.
Princess Miko Ts’ai is the stepdaughter of Kin Ts’ai, the Emperor of Kisia who killed her father and took his throne. Well-educated and a gifted fighter, she plays the role of meek sister while her twin brother Tanaka hopes to be named heir to Emperor Kin. But Miko struggles to reign in Tanaka’s bullish behaviour, and when his actions lead to the slaughter of innocent people, she takes any means necessary to see her brother on the throne and the kingdom at peace.
Cassandra is a Chiltaen assassin who works from a brothel and completes her assignments in the bedroom. She is haunted by a something – a someone – in her mind, who acts as an unwanted conscience. When she is offered a job that will finally free Cassandra from ‘Her’, she eagerly accepts, but soon finds she is caught up in a scheme that will dictate the future of Chiltae.
Rah is Captain of the Second Sword of Torin, a Levanti Herd from the northern lands that bring to mind Robert Jordan’s Aiel Waste. The Second Swords have been exiled to the southern continent after refusing to give their prized horses over to missionaries from the city states. Rah pushes the herd further and further south in search of Gideon, his trusted friend and Captain of the First Sword of Torin. But the Second Swords are ill-prepared for the lands of the South, and Rah suspects the First have been killed by the Chiltaens who they will inevitably confront.
We Ride the Storm is light on magic, heavy on politics and pregnant with the threat of war. It contains brutal and gripping battle scenes with twists, turns, and rarely an easy way out.
The story is written in first-person and alternates between the three protagonists, each drawn into their own struggle as the continent devolves into violence. I’m going to go ahead and assume that Madson’s working title was We Ride the Shitstorm before opting for gravitas, because that pretty much sums up this first instalment in The Reborn Empire quadrilogy.
“War built the Kisian Empire. And now war will tear it down.”
This is a dense fantasy read with countless named characters and locations that had me regularly flipping back and forth or consulting the world map – more than enough to satisfy any epic fantasy fan. It has been compared to A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, and while the writing is quite different, I would agree in that the story is focused on battles and insidious political schemes above other fantasy elements.
This book is well-written and relentless, covering a lot of ground (as in, the equivalent of two to three ASoIaF books) to pave the way for the rest of the series, and I had a hard time putting it down. The worldbuilding is detailed and Madson has created distinct and fascinating cultures.
In my slightly inadequate and less-than-objective rating scale, for me this is probably a 3.75 star read as I had a couple of small reservations. While the protagonists in We Ride the Storm are well-developed with unique traits and ideologies, the fast-paced and high stakes story means they primarily function as chess pieces in the great game of plot development, while I tend to prefer more character-driven books. In the Robin Hobb/ George R. R. Martin standoff that I’ve fabricated just now for the sake of comparison, I’m very much team Hobb.
Having said that, Madson has mentioned that the sequel will be a more personal story given that the shit has now done its storming, so I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on it (side note: she has also promised more chopping of heads).
We Ride the Storm is a violent and bloody read. While I didn’t mind the detailed descriptions of dismemberment and beheading, which at times were written to be oddly spiritual, I struggled with some darker scenes that I personally think could have been omitted.
That being said, I otherwise really enjoyed reading this book and I’m looking forward to the sequel We Lie With Death which is due out in 2021. I would absolutely recommend this to any fan of military fantasy or authors like George R. R. Martin and Mark Lawrence.
Trigger warning: Gang rape and murder of children