We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

Series: The Reborn Empire #1Genre: fantasy, epic fantasy, dark fantasy
Date of Publishing: June 25th 2020Publisher: Orbit

Quote of the Book

“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 Ts’ai

Blurb

AS AN EMPIRE DIES, THREE WARRIORS WILL RISE. THEY MUST RIDE THE STORM OR DROWN IN ITS BLOOD.

‘A visceral, intriguing, intense and emotionally charged ride . . . I’d strongly recommend this bloody and bold tale to fans of Mark Lawrence [and] George R. R. Martin’
Grimdark Magazine

War built the Kisian Empire and war will tear it down.

Fifteen years after rebels stormed the streets, Kisia is still divided. Only the firm hand of the god-emperor holds the kingdom together. But when a shocking betrayal destroys a tense alliance with neighbouring Chiltae, all that has been won comes crashing down.

In Kisia, Princess Miko T’sai 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.

Disclaimer/Personal Note

I’ve received an ARC from the publisher, Orbit in exchange of an honest review. This is the edited version of my review I wrote back in 2018 for the then self-published edition. Thanks so much for Nazia at Orbit and Devin Madson for providing me a copy and including me in the blog tour!

I also put this book on my Armed with a Book bingo card, under the ‘A book with multiple POVs‘ square.

I urge you to take a look at all the other awesome bloggers’ content who takes part in this blog tour!

Songs of the Book

Well, this one was pretty obvious. I was reading this scene where Cassandra calls herself a monster and at the same time I was listening to Monster by Skillet. It was… enlightening. I went to check the lyrics and damn, it fits perfectly for Cass.

And since it’s unfair to leave out Miko and Rah, I decided to choose a song for them too. Thankfully Skillet has a nice selection of songs which I can use. For Miko I picked Sick of It.

Rah. Okay, this was hard. Honestly, I couldn’t find a perfect one so I settled with my best option:

Review

We Ride the Storm is set after the events in The Vengeance Trilogy. It’s not necessary to read those books before plunging into The Reborn Empire series, but it helps to understand what’s happening at the beginning of the story. And might give a better sense of the world, since we are pretty much thrown in the middle of things. Although eventually things will clear up.

As I’ve had the chance to read both the self-published and traditionally published versions, I can see how much got changed in the process. I’m happy to report that the few extra scenes and tightened plot here and there definitely did good for We Ride the Storm. I might not have caught all the changes – 2 years is a long time – but what I did catch were all great additions.

We follow the story through 3 characters’ POVs, all of them written in first person, which, if we are being honest a really bad-ass thing to do. But also hard to portray three very different character’s voice and personality. Devin Madson definitely excelled at it.

Rah – Levanti warrior, captain of the Second Swords of Torin. He and his Swords are exiled from their homeland for a cycle and find themselves in the middle of an ages long conflict between two empires: Kisia and Chiltae. He also manages to get himself into a conflict with another captain, Gideon, because of their different views. Their relationship is a layered one. At one hand, Rah sees him as his friend, brother even, someone he always looked up to. But on the other, their time apart brought on changes in both of them that makes a gap between them. Rah stubbornly tries to keep the old customs, helds honor above else and is loyal to a fault. He holds to his believes throughout the book. He is that character who you can’t help but look up to, because whatever the circumstances he always tries to do what he believes is right. Even if that has unforseeable consequences. Through his eyes we get to learn about the Levanti culture which is about as shocking to us as to the Chiltaens. Especially since the opening scene of Rah’s POV gets us right to this point. Let’s just say, I’m happy I wasn’t born to be a Levanti. Although I like their oath:

“We are the Swords that hunt so your hands may be clean. We are the Swords that kill so your soul may be light. We are the Swords that die so you may live.”

Miko – living in the Imperial Court, far from the outside world, under the influence of her mother Empress Hanna, who tries to use her children to get the upper hand against the Emperor, Kin Ts’ai. Miko and her twin brother Tanaka have their own plans to one day get the Crimson Throne and rule over Kisia, but things go awry pretty fast. Miko finds herself choosing between two opposite fractions only to decide to put her self-interest above everything else. Miko is a strong female character, although young, naive and inexperienced when it comes to full scale politics. But she is also clever and can find her own fate, not letting anyone to stand in her way. The first time around I found it hard to connect with her and she was my least favourite of the three. For the second time, I definitely warmed up to her. She needs to grow up fast and has to make some hard decisions despite her young age. I admired her resolve and the way she was able to put the Empire’s interest above her own.

Cassandra – “Whoresassin” as Leo puts it. She is quite troubled and against her better judgement she agrees to take a job which promises to get rid of her problem permanently. Out of the three, she is the most interesting, and most complex character, but she gets less space than the other two, which is a shame. Her interactions with Leo were the funniest and the most emotional of all. Also this plotline held most of the surprises which left me with my mouth hanging open. I’m really looking forward to see where her path leads. She was the only character I really got to care about, even though I liked the other two as well. But there is just something in Cass. Maybe the hardships she’s gone through, her struggle to get control over herself and learning about how to make compromises and care about others too. That her problems aren’t really just hers. Also, the name Cassandra reminds me of the Greek mythology. She was the daughter of King Priam and was cursed so no one ever believed her prophecies, amongst them the destruction of Troy. Anyway, one of my favorite part of her and Leo’s conversation:

“Now let’s keep moving before the sight of this damn place makes me piss myself.”
“As you wish, Your Whoreness.” He had taken a few steps but turned to look back over his shoulder. “Or should it be Your Assassinness? Whoresassin!”

Through the 3 POVs we not only get glimpses into three lives, but we witness a brewing war too. Nevertheless the main focus is on the characters’ lives and motives. There are a few battle scenes which are usually short and brutal. And far more head falls in this book than you’d expect. Maybe because of the switching between the POVs, the sense of time is a bit off. Things seem to happen too fast, especially toward the end.

Without the background knowledge of the previous trilogy it’s a bit harder to grasp the world in its entirety. Especially the feud between Kisia and Chiltae which is the main driver of the story. Sure, we get explanations here and there, but since we see everything through the characters’ eyes, our knowledge is limited to theirs. We only get the information necessary to follow the events. Which is fine, but sometimes it can get frustrating. Interestingly, this did not bother me during the reread, as I was so engrossed in the story that I hardly had any complaints.

The same goes for the cultural backgrounds of the Empires. We learn the most about Levanti customs and faith, but there are many other things left untold, which would add to the worldbuilding and shine a different light on characters maybe. Let’s take the Hieromonk for example: we learn practically nothing of the religion despite him being the head of the church. Or about his motives, except the obvious, but I’m sure we’ll do so in later books.

Devin Madson seems to have an undying love for beheadings and anything to do with a weapon having a pointy end, and though there are some indeed bloody scenes, it still manages not to cross that fine line where it ends up being utterly disturbing and/or pointless. Every kill has its purpose, and every battle scene is a dance. Every chapter has its own arc, and every ending is cathartic, which just makes you turn to the next page and it makes damn hard to put it down. If you’ll find yourself saying just one more chapter, don’t be surprised if you end up staying up far too late. Madson’s style of prose also helps things, when you get descriptions like this:

“Koi’s gatehouse stood over the road like a furious matron towering above a naughty child. Its boltholes glared down at us, and the imperial flag fluttered like the matron’s bloodstained apron. And between her legs the only way in or out.”

It’s freaking genius, if you ask me. And her subtle humor makes this read even more enjoyable.

We Ride the Storm is a strong, incredible even, first book, which builds up the conflict and leaves plenty of questions to be answered in later books. It’s a bloody, character driven, headless… err, endless fun. Devin Madson‘s voice is one worth listening to in the cacophony of the Fantasy genre, and I personally can’t wait to see how far she will get with the Reborn Empire series. Hopefully not too many heads will fall in her wake.

Our Judgement

14 Comments

    • Timy

      It is. I forgot to mention in the review – I blame it on lack of sleep – but it has an Asian-feel setting too. I could recommend if you like dark fantasy, political schemings, and such. Probably better to start with The Vengeance Trilogy to have a better understanding of the world, but you can start here too. It has a different set of characters, since it’s about the next generation.

  • Victoria Corva

    Feel like I’ve been hearing about this non stop but didn’t really know what it was about. Thanks for this helpful and in-depth review.

    I notice you said that there’s a previous trilogy and that it leans on it a bit with regards to background knowledge — would you recommend We Ride the Storm as a good place to start with Devin Madson’s world, or is it worth going back fo rthose previous books?

    • Timy

      I haven’t read the previous trilogy, but you can totally start with We Ride the Storm. The prequel trilogy is set years before the events in We Ride the Storm, it only gives some insights into one plotline but it’s absolutely clear without prior knowledge as well. Besides I believe the prequel trilogy will be reedited and published again.

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