Synopsis: War built the Kisian Empire. War will tear it down.
Seventeen years after rebels stormed the streets, factions divide Kisia. Only the firm hand of the god-emperor holds the empire together. But when a shocking betrayal destroys a tense alliance with neighboring Chiltae, all that has been won comes crashing down.
In Kisia, Princess Miko Ts’ai 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.
As an empire dies, three warriors will rise. They will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood.
“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.
I had done nothing but exist. Nothing but own the wrong face and the wrong eyes, the wrong ancestors and the wrong name.”
We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson has quite the story behind it. Originally self-published in 2018, Madson began to gain traction when she entered it in Mark Lawrence’s wickedly popular Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) contest. We Ride the Storm didn’t win that year (it was runner-up), but it ended up capturing the attention of the wonderful folx over at Orbit Books. So much so in fact that they acquired not only We Ride the Storm, but six other books from Madson. Now THAT is a deal!
Oof. This is going to be a difficult one for me to review, because on paper this would be a book that I dig the hell out of. Yet, some of this didn’t sit well with me. It has received rave review after rave review with many touting this as Book of the Year & I just have a hard time wrapping my brain around what I struggled with being the same book as what is being hyped.
I feel like I’m skip hopping merrily into the party where everyone is amped up & having a fucking spectacular time & here I am arriving & effectively shitting all over your parade like, “Sorry folx, I’m just here to fuck up your happy celebration! DON’T MIND ME!!”
Oops? But also, sorry not sorry.
We Ride the Storm is an Asian-inspired fantasy with three fundamentally different POV’s. These characters are from various backgrounds, although there is a severe lack in developing them any further than the basic descriptors. This is a long book, one that has no qualms in killing off characters, yet I didn’t feel much because I just didn’t care enough about them. I’m an emotional reader & I’m super into characterizations, especially when it comes to fantasy. The one character I was most interested in, Cassandra, is basically relegated to a background role towards the last half of the book. WHYYY?!?
Then there is the much bigger issue of POC being depicted as savages. I don’t want to make any assumptions, but I do have to wonder if Madson had a cultural beta reader? Some murky waters here with heavy-handed stereotypes.
I was also disappointed to find that We Ride the Storm had an unnecessary rape thrown in for the sake of brutality. The rapists responsible didn’t suffer any consequences. The rape brought nothing to the story. The fact that someone other than an old white dude decided that it needed to be included, which obviously isn’t okay either but happens all too frequently, is just.. ugh. It goes without saying that I’m somewhat surprised that Orbit didn’t seem to have many problems with it, considering there was plenty of time between when it was acquired & when it was released to reconceptualize certain scenes & yet..
Did I mention that the rape was compared to a dead horse? Because, yeah. That happened.
I’m surprised & disappointed when reviewers gloss over rape like it just adds to the GRIM & DARK vibe. Half the time it’s thrown into the review as an afterthought, if at all. Rape isn’t a prerequisite for the grimdark genre. There are plenty of other writers out there who are able to tell a gritty, grimy story without forcibly violating a character. Don’t add to the problem by continuing to resort to such needless tropes. I’m so fucking tired, y’all.
Having only read In Shadows We Fall, Madson’s prequel novella which takes place within the same world, I feel of two completely different minds when comparing them. There was a spark there that I was missing in this full-length novel, along with problems that got under my skin.
It was like weathering a storm, indeed.
(Thanks to Orbit Books for sending me a copy!)
**The quotes above were taken from an ARC & are subject to change upon publication**