We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

Madson has crafted a complex and immersive story that catapults the reader through a gripping series of adventures and doesn’t let go until the final electrifying pages.
We Ride the Storm book cover

Note: This is a personal review, and does not reflect the final rating that this blog may give for the SPFBO contest. FantasyBookReview.co.uk will notify readers of their official SPFBO-submitted scores when appropriate.

I was unaware of Devin Madson’s previous work until early reviews of We Ride the Storm started popping up on some trustworthy blogs from reviewers that I respect. There was a lot of hype built around this book’s release that piqued my interest, and I’m happy to report that the hype is well-founded. In short, Madson has crafted a complex and immersive story that catapults the reader through a gripping series of adventures and doesn’t let go until the final electrifying pages.

The book begins with a fair amount of complex exposition, yet the patient will be rewarded. There are three main POVs, and each chapter focuses on a different character. There’s quite a large cast of major players and historical events to absorb, but by around the sixth chapter, after visiting each character twice, the storylines begin to intersect. It is also around this point where the action ramps up, and the surprises and shocking moments start to land fast and heavy. During the middle section of the book, every chapter felt like a finale of sorts: main characters were killed, huge revelations were dropped, and major power moves shook up the foundation of the story. It’s rare that I compare any book series to George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, yet the comparison kept itching at my brain. Both stories have densely-layered politics and detailed generational histories, and both books don’t think twice about eliminating characters you care about. The comparisons don’t end there, but I’ll let you discover more on your own.

One interesting aspect of the three POVs is that they are all first-person perspectives. I don’t recall encountering a book that shifts between three characters’ minds before, and Madson pulls this off rather well. As the audience becomes privy to the inner thoughts of these characters, we gain a more insightful understanding of their motivations and decisions, and this strengthens the depths of their characterizations. Rah is a leader of a pack of exiled swordsman nomads leading their coveted horses through uncharted territory, until they are roped into a war that they do not wish to fight, and cannot win. Cassandra is a prostitute and assassin who is cursed with a second voice in her head that fights for control of her body. Miko is a princess of Kisia, twin sister to the heir to the throne, but a series of lies about her family’s lineage threatens to upend the kingdom on the brink of invasion. Madson does a commendable job making each of these voices distinct, each with their own strengths and flaws, which helped each voice shine through the narrative in its own singular way.

I briefly spoke with Madson while reading this story and learned that she wrote this book without much planning ahead of time. This impressed me to no end, as I believe the intricate plotting is one of the greatest strengths of the novel. There is no meandering and hardly any build-up; we are transported from pivotal scene to pivotal scene, with each chapter moving the plot along at a startling pace. The amount of changes that occur from the beginning to the end of any given chapter is truly astounding. Even though this book is the start of a series, it felt like it had a trilogy’s worth of events packed into it. The intensity continues to ramp up over time, and I recall cursing out loud after ending several chapters in shock and disbelief. I wonder if this pace can be matched in future volumes, but I’ve learned not to underestimate this author.

The first few chapters were a bit tough to get through, as there were various cultures to discover, quite a few important characters to learn, and generations worth of world history and geography to absorb. It was also slightly vertiginous to constantly hop between characters’ heads; sometimes it took a page or two to recall whose head you were rummaging around in (especially Cass’ two-minded chapters). The only character notification the reader is given in advance is a small identifying glyph displayed at the beginning of each chapter, so starting a new chapter can be a bit confusing, but only for a page or two at most. Once the learning curve is bested, it’s a free and clear race to the finish line, with barely any time to catch your breath.

Narrative grievances aside, We Ride the Storm is a brilliant start to an electrifying high fantasy series. It is furiously paced and full of genuine surprises and rousing mysteries, and it is very easy for me to recommend. Just be aware that this story ends on several cliffhangers, so the wait until the next volume might be a difficult one. But don’t let that dissuade you – the buzz around this book is to be believed, so grab a copy and get lost in the Reborn Empire.

I’d like to thank Devin Madson for providing me with a copy of her book in exchange for an honest review.

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