Hi everyone, and welcome to the first installment of our review of We Ride the Storm, the first book of The Reborn Empire by Devin Madson. First, we’d both like to thank the author for writing such a compelling book, and second, we’d like to thank Mark Lawrence for creating the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off (SPFBO), through which we discovered this book.
KC Winters: I have to say, I REALLY enjoyed these first six chapters. There’s a gritty realism to the opening chapter that drew me in at once, but I’m also very intrigued by the complicated politics that are already emerging.
And besides, who doesn’t like a kickass assassin who also happens to be a courtesan?
Kellen Darcy: I’m honestly surprised at how much I enjoyed the first six chapters, and how invested I already am in what happened. It’s not unusual for it to take me half a book or more to get into something, and I was definitely in by the end of the third chapter.
I’ve abandoned a few series that I ended up enjoying later in just the first bit- some of the more popular examples being The Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire- but I made it through our allotted first part with pretty much a lack of drama on my part.
KC Winters: I feel like this is one of those stories where the enigmas are only gradually going to be revealed, and I like that. I relish the feeling of always feeling on the edge of my seat, wondering when the next shoe is going to drop, when the next aspect of the mystery is going to be revealed.
I also like that there is clearly a vast history to this world, one that is only gradually being revealed to us.
Kellen Darcy: I agree with that feeling of a vast world still coming out, and I want to add that I appreciate the pace that it’s unfurled so far. I love fantasy, but one thing that I think a lot of fantasy writers have a hard time with is a decent pacing when they’re unfurling that world in their writing.
I feel like quite a chunk of works I’ve read go too fast or too slow with relatively few hitting that sweet spot in the middle. I’m reading fantasy for the world building as much as the plot, to be clear. But you can’t dump a thousand years or more of your world’s history in my lap all at one and expect me to keep up or not abandon ship in frustration. At the same time, you can’t just leave the entire scope of the world out until halfway through the series.
KC Winters: Exactly. Like you, I find that it is very hard to find that in a lot of fantasy. Tad Williams is one who does it very well, and of course the greats like Robert Jordan. I also find it to be one of the things I struggle the most with as a writer, juggling the generic demands of fully-realized alternate world and engaging present-day plot.
Obviously, you’re going to discover aspects of your world that you didn’t know before (when you started writing), but you also have to make sure that you have a firm enough handle on your own mythos to bring it into your own work. Madson seems to have the knack of it.
So, who was your favourite character so far?
Kellen Darcy: I don’t honestly know yet. Miko, so far, especially by the end of Chapter 6. She seems so confident in herself and what she’s doing at so many points, but then at other times it’s obvious that she’s a flawed person and realizes that she doesn’t have all of the pieces.
I feel like I know more about her than I do the other POV characters at this point, so I feel more of a connection with her. That may or may not change as we go further through the book.
KC Winters: Yeah, I agree. She definitely seems cut from the Arya Stark mold, and it’s precisely because she’s so innocent (compared to the other POV characters) that I feel like she has a lot of room to grow. And, since I’m partial to the political part of a lot of fantasy, I always find myself drawn to those particular parts of a given novel.
Kellen Darcy: If we’re going with an ASoIaF comparison here, I don’t know that it would be Arya I’d compare her to. She seems much more aware of the reality of things than Arya was in the earlier parts of the series; of course, it turns out she isn’t as clever as she thought, but still. She lacks that almost innocence Arya seemed (at least to me) to hang on to until much later in the series, long after she should have lost it many times over. (I feel like it was hard for the lesson to soak into Arya’s thick skull all the way.)
I can’t actually think of a good ASoIaF comparison character. She’s tough like Arya, sure, but she also has a kind of naiveté like early Sansa did, but without the constant whining and victim complex even before she was a victim. And a lot less yammering about lemon cakes.
I feel like so far, ALL of the main characters have been lacking that poor judgement of literally everything pretty much everyone in ASoIaF exhibited for too long. Thankfully.
KC Winters: Oh, that’s definitely all true. I didn’t really mean to draw a one-on-one comparison, just to point out that she’s a certain TYPE of character, one that I usually find more appealing.
I really feel like Madson has a control over her characters that very few other authors of epic fantasy (ahem, Martin and Jordan) don’t seem to have. She allows us into their heads, yes, but she doesn’t allow them to be as self-indulgent as so many other epic fantasy characters. Which, let me tell you, is like a freaking breath of fresh air.
Kellen Darcy: Fair enough. Even though it’s been over two decades I’m still easily irritated by how dense some of the ASoIaF characters were.
I enjoy the way Madson is presenting her characters to us. They’re not stuffed shells of blandness, they’re not acting like they’re in a vacuum, they’re not the only thing happening in the world. I like them as characters, even if I don’t know them well enough to like or dislike them as people.
KC Winters: I completely agree. I can’t wait to see where they go from here and, really, isn’t that the best thing about a fantasy novel?
Kellen Darcy: It’s precisely why I enjoy fantasy, especially compared to historical fiction- which I also really enjoy. I never have an idea where it IS going to go- I always know the world didn’t end with historical fiction. I don’t think.
I think this is as good of a spot as any to cut off this time- unless I have been reading historical fiction wrong and the world is over. Join us soon for the second installment!