We Ride the Storm
by Devin Madson
4 out of 5
In the midst of a burgeoning war, a warrior, an assassin, and a princess chase their own ambitions no matter the cost in Devin Madson's visceral, emotionally charged debut.
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.
As Emperor Kin Ts'ai weakens, with no apparent heir, war is brewing and lives are changing.
I received a free copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
The narrative is split between three characters.
Princess Miko Ts'ai is sharp, intelligent, and honourable. She has been told countless times she should have been born a boy. But, because she is a girl, and because her real father was an Otako (it's the worst kept secret in the empire that Miko and her twin are the children of the previous emperor).
Miko is seen as an expendable pawn by everyone at court - including her own mother.
When Empress Hana's plans to put Miko's brother on the throne fail; Miko surprises herself by protecting Emperor Kin Ts'ai, because she knows that only he can hold the armies together and protect against the growing threats.
Rah is the leader of his herd - a group of horsemen and women who live a peaceful nomadic lifestyle. Life in his homeland of Levanti has gotten increasingly strained, as city folk forget their roots, and exile the tribes.
Leading his people into Kisia, Rah's plans to find a new home are disrupted when they are rounded up and forced into service for the Chiltaen army. Little better than slaves, Rah finds other Levanti herds, trying to make the most of their new life thanks to the herdmaster Gideon.
Rah finds it difficult to give up the old ways, and struggles to be obedient when he is ordered to kill innocent people.
Cassandra is... weird.
She's a Chiltaen prostitute-turned-assassin. She also has a demon sharing her mind and body, who can occasionally take full control, but mainly just sits back and silently judges Cassandra for all her choices.
Oddly, it's Cassandra who enjoys killing, and the demon acts as her missing conscience.
Cassandra is hired to kill a Chiltaen lord who is travelling to Kisia for an arranged marriage; because certain people in Chiltae want a war, and they're not going to wait for a real excuse.
Cassandra quickly gets caught up in the war, with both sides wanting to use her skills to their advantage.
We Ride the Storm is an epic, Asian-inspired fantasy.
I understand that this is the author's second series in this world, but this is the first book I've read. I've got to say that it works perfectly well at establishing the world, and I didn't feel like I'd missed out on anything.
(That said, I would also like to read the previous series.)
This book is full of adventure and battles; the plot twists and turns, keeping you guessing throughout.
As well as the action and political drama, it is very character-driven, which I like my fantasy to be.
I think Miko was definitely my favourite. This princess has always been wise to her position. She has tagged along while her twin brother trains in archery, riding and battle tactics; and she has not wasted her opportunity to learn.
Whereas her brother is quick and passionate; Miko is cool and logical. She knows that she is at a natural disadvantage having been born a woman; and that if she is going to get what she wants, she needs to move amongst the world of men, and earn their respect.
Rah was an interesting character - you'd expect him this head-collecting warrior to be cast as a barbarian, but he's a much gentler soul.
The Levanti live as one with nature. They want peace, but Rah will fight to defend himself and his herd. And the chopping off heads - for them it's how they honour their dead, and allow their spirits to leave their bodies.
Rah spends a lot of his time trying to work out how their new life will go; and at what price he will bend or break his morals.
As a slave, Rah goes where the Chiltaen army demands. He might have rebellious thoughts, but for the most part he keeps his head down.
I thought that Rah's narrative really helped build the bigger picture of the ongoing war; but I didn't feel as engaged with Rah's personal story.
Cassandra was a pretty awesome character. I liked that she didn't care about killing and that she has a not-quite-love/hate relationship with her demon.
She constantly wants her gone, but then misses her when she isn't there.
That said, I found it hardest to get into her narrative, it could sometimes be hard to follow what was being thought and said and done, with both Cassandra and her demon being present.
I thought our ruthless assassin's convictions were a bit wobbly; and I lost sight of her overall aims throughout her storyline, as she allows other people to use her and dangle shiny new prizes in front of her.
Overall, this was a very strong start to a series, and I look forward to what happens next.