Symphony of the Wind by Steven McKinnon

Series: The Rainchatcher’s Ballad #1 Rating: 4.5/5
Date of Publishing: June 25th 2018 Genre: fantasy, dark fantasy
Format: Kindle Available: Amazon
Number of pages: 660 Author’s website: http://www.stevenmckinnon.net/

Quote of the Book

“Music stirred memories. It was powerful like that, a single note able to send someone back years, a key unlocking unwelcome emotions you’d worked to seal away.”

Blurb

A bounty hunter with a death wish. An orphan with her head in the clouds. A conspiracy with the power to bring down a kingdom.

Serena dreams of leaving her harsh desert home behind in her very own airship. But when an assassin's knife meant for Serena kills her friend instead, the rebellious orphan ventures into the corrupt heart of Dalthea to discover who put a price on her head. With each new turn, she edges closer to uncovering the awful truth... And the mystical powers brewing deep within her.

After his fiancée’s death, soldier-turned-bounty hunter Tyson Gallows is eager to sacrifice his life in the line of duty. When a foreign enemy assassinates a high-ranking official, he vows to bring them to justice. On the hunt for a killer, Gallows exposes a sinister plot that proves his fiancée’s death was no accident.

Driven by revenge, Serena and Gallows must join forces to take down the conspiracy before the kingdom falls to ruin.

Personal notes

I’ve read this book as part of the SPFBO competition. I’m no judge, so my review/rating doesn’t affect the results. To be honest, when I first browsed through our 30 assigned books, this one didn’t catch my eyes – despite the nice cover. Then Emma picked it as one of her semi-finalist, and the choice was pretty much made for me. Thanks Emma! Also, for everything that happens with me and FBR, check out my SPFBO4 page where you can find reviews, interviews, guest posts.

Song of the Book

It’s no secret, that Breaking Benjamin my favorite band, thus it surprises me that I haven’t used any song of them to pair with my reviews. Until now. I was listening to Red Cold River when I got the idea of picking a BB song, but instead of that one I went for Torn in Two.

Review

I was a bit weary when I started to read Symphony of the Wind. Partly because it’s 660 pages long, and partly because I had no idea what to expect. I probably wouldn’t have picked it if it weren’t for Emma, and while we tend to have similar opinions, that’s not exactly a guarantee. Thankfully this book exceeded my expectations, and wouldn’t be surprised to see it rise in SPFBO this year.

Dalthea is trying to recover after a war in which thousands of people lost their life, most of them thanks to a bomb set off in the bay by the rival kingdom, Idari. Thanks to this, the poison veil hanging over the bay and the destruction made in other places, Dalthea suffers a great loss, the people as well as nature. The land lays barren, and the only source of water comes from rain, produced by the help of Spires which generate storms. It’s the job of the raincatchers to gather the water and bring back to Dalthea where it’s portioned and given to people in exchange of water tokens. Dalthea has a post-war-steam-punk kind of feel to it. This threw me off at the beginning, because couldn’t really decide if it’s novel set in a modern-post-war world, or a 18th century feel steampunk-post-war world. In the end it doesn’t really matter, and the truth is probably somewhere in between. The Spires and the airships – especially the warship Schiehallion – represent “advanced” technology with their complex build. Also, there are Info Towers all around the town informing people about the news in every hour and giving orders in time of need. This aspect reminded me a bit of The Giver for some reason.

The war might be over, but peace is relative. The Prime Minister is pretty adamant on Idari wanting to erase Dalthea off the map, and is not afraid to take desperate measures. Let’s just say, people die in this book. Some have ugly death, some uglier. No one is quite what they seem to be and good luck with keeping up with all the revelations. There are several layers to the plot and I’m not exactly sure I got every nuance, so this one definitely needs a reread at some point. Once you are settled down in the story, and the different plotlines starts to come together, and you think you figured things out, there always will be some kind of twist that will throw you off.

We primarily follow the story through two main characters’ eyes: Serena and Gallows. The former is a 17-year-old orphan girl who works for the raincatcher until an accident happens and things go to hell. She not only ends up neck-deep in a plot against Thackeray (Dalthea’s Prime Minister) and finding out unpleasant truths about her past and heritage. Extra points for McKinnon to use choosing a not so cliché creature! I can’t wait to see what’s in store for her in the future. Serena is, well, a quite typical 17-year-old girl, who is headstrong, knows everything better and doesn’t really care about rules. She has a rebel heart which makes her pretty likable. Having a sense of sarcastic humor doesn’t hurt either.

’Bite your tongue off and swallow it,’ said Serena.
Enfield’s eyes wrenched open.
’Guess it ain’t words, then.’ Serena sounded disappointed.

It’s a pity we don’t spend much time in her POV, especially in the second half of the book, she becomes kind of forgotten with everything. She slowly realises what powers she wields and experiments with it, but we only get glimpses. She has so much more to her though.

The other main character is Gallows, ex-soldier, currently works as a Hunter alongside Damien. Both of them are mysterious, and harbour their own secrets and scars. We learn quite a lot about them during the book. They have rocky friendship, but their bond proves to be strong and the chemistry works well between them.

’Are you feeling okay?’ asked Damien.
’Fine. You?’
Damien’s voice was coarse like crushed glass when he spoke. ’Somewhat nervous. Treason. Violence. Death. And above all, I can’t remember if I left the stove on.’

Symphony of the Wind is written in third person, omniscience and besides the main characters,  we follow several who each get their POV at some point. Can’t say I’m a fan of this kind of writing, because it makes it hard to connect with characters. And maybe that’s one of my biggest critic for this book: even though I liked the characters and they are really well fleshed out, I just couldn’t get all that invested emotionally. Not saying I didn’t root for them, or hate them with a passion, because oh boy, I did. Pierro and Korvan definitely creeped me out no doubt about it. And Thackeray’s way of thinking… don’t let me start on that. What kind of monster does things like that? He and Hitler probably could have been besties if they knew each other. Besides there were too many POVs sometimes which made the pace a bit dragging at times and while I appreciate that McKinnon tried to show the events from different angles, I could do without some of them. On the positive side, even the side characters have their distinct personalities and I liked them all. Except some of the assholes, but then they weren’t meant to be likeable anyway.

Steven McKinnon is undoubtedly an extremely talented author, who handled the many layers and plotlines very well. The book starts slowly, and it takes about half of the book for the pace to pick up, build up the world and the character arcs. And it does take time because, this world is very well detailed: the religion consists of a handful of gods (I really would like to learn more about this aspect of the world), the kingdom, the society, the way the different guilds and military forces work together. Or not. Anyway, after everything gets in place, there is no stopping. One event follows the next and you can hardly have time to take a breath. What saves the first half of the book is McKinnon’s vivid imagination and fluid writing. A little example:

Wind forced rubbish to waltz in the street, accompanied by the faint smell of blood. Sharp points of shattered glass in window frames caught sunlight, like threads of a ripped white dress. Funny how the presence of soldiers and coppers made everything less safe.

Or one of my favorite lines which gives back so perfectly the drug addict Buzz’s personality and state of mind:

And Buzz knew, oh Buzz always knew, he knew it all, pray sweet Songstress, beautiful Musa, God of Music and of Poetry and Bliss.

This book really has everything you might be looking for: secret underground places, monsters, chasing, fighting scenes, ruthless villains, dead bodies, heart wrenching and uplifting moments, and a few unanswered questions which makes you want to read the next installment. Symphony of a Wind is a real roller coaster ride and one which require your full attention to catch everything what’s going on. Personally I was waiting some big twist at the end which didn’t come, but I had so many WTF moments during reading that I don’t really mind. Is Symphony of the Wind perfect? Nope. Do I care? Not really. It is an awesome first book from a debuting fantasy author. One for whom I’ll throw away whatever I’m reading at the moment when he releases his next book.

Symphony of the Wind is intricate, surprising, and doesn’t shy away from giving punches. If you like your fantasy dark, don’t mind if the pace is a bit slower, want to be surprised and don’t see what happens next, you should absolutely check this out!

4 thoughts on “Symphony of the Wind by Steven McKinnon

Add yours

  1. I read this book and found it wonderfully creative. Like you, I noted the difference in the first and second halves, but my take on it wasn’t that the first half was slow, it was that the second half was three hundred pages of action typical of most books’ dénouement. I’m probably alone in feeling this way, but it was too much of a good thing. I found it exhausting.

    Liked by 1 person

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