Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Herald of the Storm - Richard Ford

Herald of the Storm is the first part in Steelhaven, an epic fantasy trilogy, by Richard Ford whose novel, Kultus, I reviewed back in 2011. Having fond memories of Kultus, and being a huge epic fantasy fan, it was not a difficult decision to put Herald of the Storm at the top of the reading pile. Many thanks to Headline for providing me with a review copy of Herald of the Storm.

The blurb promises us desperate times with five unlikely heroes, and I think Richard Ford made a good, but not groundbreaking, choice in his heroes.

The first one which springs to mind is River, the disillusioned assassin, who I like for the way the writer applies poetry to his fighting style. A young man who is trapped between the love for his family of assassins, and the love of his life, and his story is one of tragedy.

Then there is Kaira, the temple shield maiden. She is the token smoking hot girl who can kill a man with her pinky, and is obviously as hotheaded as she is beautiful. She will also question her beliefs and where she belongs. Oh and she carries more than one can of whoop-ass.

Merrick, the drunken swindler, lost his family and gambled away his fortune. A man who has lost himself in self pity and firmly set his feet on a path to self destruction. Blessed with the gift of the gap he keeps himself afloat by charming rich widows and making himself useful to organised crime, but it's really just a question of time before he drowns in despair and self loathing. Unless, he can rediscover his pride. He seems to be looking for it at the bottom of booze bottles though.

Nobul, the unbalanced veteran, finds himself once again at the mercy of the gods, and comes to regret the life he has lived. To make right from wrong he abandons his forge for a new start with the city guard, a under-funded and corrupt organisation who is respected by on one, especially not the guards themselves. Nobul's story is one of forgiveness.

Rag, a desperate thief, is a child of the streets, who lives on the scraps she and her small gang can pilfer without drawing the attention of the guild. Her dream is to join the guild, but it's really more a dream about belonging somewhere than being a recognised thief.

I'll leave out the apprentice sorcerer and the princess before I give away too much about the book, but rest assured, they too are of the highest quality. The characters are so good they steal the show from plot and world building, you could drop these guys into any setting and they would work. The plot is simply their story, a story which they write by making choices; not by being forced into situations.

Richard Ford and his Herald of the Storm certainly met, and surpassed, my expectations. Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen is the yard stick I use to determine the epicness of a fantasy novel. It is a measure I expect all novels to fall short against, but Richard Ford does well. Herald of the Storm is more low key. You will not find gods and dragons roaming the street duking it out with earth shattering magic. Mr Ford instead tries to capture our attention with with well balanced characters, both in skill behaviour, and how they cope with the hand fate dealt them, and what happens when ideals and ideas goes head to head. Sometimes, less is more.
Welcome to Steelhaven… watch your back!
Herald of the Storm weighs in at 400 pages, and is published by Headline. 25th of April 2013 is the date to mark in your calendar.

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