It's not about winning. It's about how you win.
Stormblood, the impressive debut novel by Jeremy Szal, is a military science fiction about super soldiers infused with alien DNA that gives them preternatural strength, agility and healing. It also causes the soldiers to crave adrenaline like an addict, constantly looking for the next hit to the point of putting themselves in terrible danger to do so. This continues years after the war is over, causing mental and physcial breaks in what was once the saviors of mankind.
And now these soldiers are turning up dead, murdered by someone -- or something -- unknown.
Vakov Fukunawa, a sworn brother of the Reaper soldiers, must now fulfill an oath to discover what is happening in the criminal underworld, while weighing the meaning of true brotherhood.
Some wars never end.
Stormblood is visionary novel that tackles trauma, drug abuse, and the fallout that comes from bad choices. It's also about perseverance, sacrifice, promises kept and broken, and what makes people worth fighting for.
One of the standout aspects of the story is the tech. There's armor. Lots and lots of unique body armor. Clever weaponry and smart AI integrated into visceral battle scenes. And it's all set within a massive, hollowed-out asteroid where half a billion souls live within cities carved into different floors of its shell.
One of Szal's numerous strengths (so many similes!) is the level of detail he builds into each new setting. The sights, sounds, and especially the smells of the city permeate through the pages. Whether you are experiencing the sickly-sweet stench of alley junkies looking for their next hit of stormtech, or the foreign, yet appetizing scents wafting through the intergalactic food vendor stalls in the Upper Markets, the world you experience through Vakov’s eyes is as rich and clear as his heightened senses are purported to be.
There were a couple of small quibbles that stood out: The Bond-villain adversay reveals the master plan that is revealed moments before they strike down our hero. There were also a couple of character-related decisions that had me slapping my forehead, although some of these are purely subjective opinions, and your mileage may vary. There instances could also have been chalked up to Vakov's blind-rage mindset.
And what a rage it is. The book occasionally takes us back to the war that started it all, the war that turned these soldiers into Reapers when they were injected with these alien... things... without knowing the extent of the consequences. Heightened senses, incredible healing, agility and strength, yes... but paying the ultimate cost for these abilities not only puts the soldiers' own lives in danger, but those they care about, as well. These flashbacks culminate into the most epic of chapters, when we learn the meaning behind the titular Stormblood, and the truth behind the lies. This final flashback chapter was the personal highlight of the story for me, as it landed some huge emotional uppercuts and important reveals.
If Robert Heinlein writing a screenplay for a David Cronenberg film sounds appealing, then read this book immediately. It is an intense, affecting story, shining a light on the mistakes of humanity's past and our responsibility to avoid repeating them. Szal is a promising new author to follow, with the vision and scope to tell many new stories ahead, until we're dirt and dust.
Are you with me?
ARC provided by Gollancz / author. Available June 4th.
Review by Adam Weller
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