Absolutely riveting! We Ride The Storm is already one of my favorite books of the year.
“In the midst of a burgeoning war, a warrior, an assassin, and a princess chase their own ambitions no matter the cost in Devin Madson’s visceral, emotionally charged debut.
War built the Kisian Empire. War will tear it down.
Seventeen years after rebels stormed the streets, factions divide Kisia. Only the firm hand of the god-emperor holds the empire together. But when a shocking betrayal destroys a tense alliance with neighboring Chiltae, all that has been won comes crashing down.
In Kisia, Princess Miko Ts’ai is a prisoner in her own castle. She dreams of claiming her empire, but the path to power could rip it, and her family, asunder.
In Chiltae, assassin Cassandra Marius is plagued by the voices of the dead. Desperate, she accepts a contract that promises to reward her with a cure if she helps an empire fall.
And on the border between nations, Captain Rah e’Torin and his warriors are exiles forced to fight in a foreign war or die.
As an empire dies, three warriors will rise. They will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood.” – Goodreads blurb
I didn’t take many notes when reading We Ride The Storm. They only came to about a half a page in my notebook. I’d been sucked into the story and I didn’t want to set the book down long enough to jot anything down. That’s because Devin Madson is an amazing storyteller. I’ll get to why that is in due course, but first let me mention the elements that helped make this such a great read.
We Ride The Storm is very much a character driven story without the usual feel of character driven stories. What I mean by that is there’s a lot of action. So if you’re a fan of that plot element you won’t be disappointed. But within all the action there’s character and THAT makes is so much more compelling. Action can be fun and thrilling and make a book a page turner, but without strong character development it doesn’t stick and doesn’t become great.
Told from three different POV characters We Ride The Storm is a story about war and survival in lands torn apart by internal and external strife.
“They tried to kill me four times before I could walk. Seven before I held any memory of the world. Every time thereafter I knew fear, but it was anger that chipped sharp edges into my soul.”
Miko is a princess who has always been looking over her shoulder, always unsure when the next assassin might come, always knowing it was her father who wanted her dead, and always working to find a place for herself and her brother in her country’s future. How she survives and makes that happen may destroy her family and the empire, and leave her dead on the street if she isn’t careful.
“It’s harder to sever a head than people think.”
Rah is a captain of the Torin, horse warriors who have been exiled from home and are looking for a place to live in a foreign land. Can he keep his people together? Will they be able to settle someplace new? Or will they be sucked into the coming war and their culture and heritage be torn asunder?
“The man’s last breath sighed out between damp lips. It was a peaceful sound, graceful even, unlike the mess I had left.”
Cassandra is an assassin who hears the voices of the dead. She is also haunted/possessed by another mysterious being who has…lets say special body animating abilities. She is just trying to survive in a harsh world and may be caught up in something so much bigger than she realizes. Oh…and that haunting/possessed hearing the dead thing…it’s just a bit creepy…and cool.
Each of these characters are so well crafted that I never found myself hoping for one POV to end so that I could get to a favorite. I DID have a favorite (that’s Miko) but all three hit different buttons for me and pulled at different strings. The quotes I used above to introduce each character do SO MUCH to encapsulate who they are and their entire character arc that I have to note it here before I talk about storytelling and writing below. From the very beginning Madson tells us who they are and what they are about, then uses the rest of the book to flesh it out. Each is so damn compelling.
Madson has created a world with a blend of cultural settings. A mix of Asian and European backgrounds come together in a fantasy world with elements that feel both familiar and foreign. I enjoyed this blend and the alternating perspectives as it made the narrative richer on the whole. The three different cultures revealed through the lenses of each character gave this book a little something more than most fantasy stories that are only told from one cultural background. Through each character you get to see the positive and negative of their own nation as well as those of their foes, or at least how they see their foes.
Magic isn’t a major element of the story though it is there. It is mostly seen at the hands of certain clergy, or the odd haunted/possessed girl, or a certain witch doctor, and isn’t fully explored. I expect we’ll see more of it in future installments in the series. Here it’s really just enough to whet the appetite and keep you wondering because you know there’s something more there.
Madson also flipped the world on us a bit. By that I mean she didn’t write it as someone from the northern hemisphere. In this world It gets colder as you move south, not as you move north. Sometimes it’s little variations on world building like this that make things just a bit more interesting and I loved it. And I’m sure there are readers in the southern hemisphere who will give a shout of “yes!” to this.
Writing and Storytelling
For me though where We Ride The Storm really shines is in Madson’s story telling. Built into this is everything I’ve already covered above. Good storytelling requires a good plot, interesting characters, and immersive world building (even in non-fantasy). But equally as important is the writing and how that story is told. This last element is where Madson excels.
Madson’s prose is what you’d expect from a story such as this. But what’s really cool is how she wrote a book with such good action and character and managed to make the writing fit both without lacking in either area; action oriented when called for and introspective when needed. Sometimes these would blend together in a scene and it was these chapters where the writing really exploded onto the page. The title of the book really matches the narrative within.
I’ve already said this was a riveting read and that I didn’t want to set it down to take notes. That’s because Madson knows how to ratchet up the tension. Each chapter was intense, not just the overall narrative arc, but EACH AND EVERY CHAPTER. I’d finish one and have to start the next. Sometimes I’d have to pause a moment to catch my breath before getting right back in it when chapters would slowly build their way to a stunning end and I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat before exclaiming out loud (or on Twitter) at their conclusion. At times I was holding my breath and sweating. The reader rides the storm of the story right along with the characters. Madson hooked me and I stayed hooked from the first page to the last.
This is one of those reviews where I want to say so much more but can’t really find the right words to do it without writing a ten page essay. I feel like I’m leaving out so much. I’ll end by simply reiterating how much I loved this book. I see now why so many of my blogging/reviewing friends recommend it and I now add my name to that list.
Note: We Ride The Storm was originally a self-published work before being picked up by Orbit. That version was also a finalist in the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (#SPFBO) in 2018. The Orbit edition has been re-written a little and also has a change of opening scene. I have not read the self-published edition.
I was sent an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book by the publisher.
5 of 5 Stars
Author: Devin Madson
Series: The Reborn Empire #1
Publication Date: June 23, 2020
Format: Advanced Reader’s Copy