Steelhaven: Herald of the Storm by Richard Ford – Book Review [Bane of Kings]
Bane of Kings reviews Herald of the Storm by Richard Ford, published by Headline Books.
“An excellent book. Unputdownable, engrossing, spectacular – you won’t want to miss this.” ~The Founding Fields
There’s a lot of grimdark fantasy out there at the moment. George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, The First Law Series by Joe Abercrombie, and Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire Trilogy are three of the more notable books from the subgenre. However, when I approached Herald of the Storm, I approached it not with the sense that this would feel like a rehash of books that we’ve seen before, but with a sense of anticipation. Ford’s Kultus was well received by my fellow Founding Fields reviewers Commissar Ploss and Djinn24, and it was mostly well received elsewhere from what I’ve seen. And Herald of the Storm has already been receiving some pretty good praise so far from what I’ve seen. So I went in with anticipation, and the end result? Well, the end result was good. I actually really enjoyed this book.
Welcome to Steelhaven… Under the reign of King Cael the Uniter, this vast cityport on the southern coast has for years been a symbol of strength, maintaining an uneasy peace throughout the Free States. But now a long shadow hangs over the city, in the form of the dread Elharim warlord, Amon Tugha. When his herald infiltrates the city, looking to exploit its dangerous criminal underworld, and a terrible dark magick that has long been buried once again begins to rise, it could be the beginning of the end.
There are several things to love about Herald of the Storm. If gritty fantasy is your thing, then you’ll enjoy it. Sure, whilst it may be in the standard fantasy format, debut novel in a trilogy to boot, the book’s setting is somewhat different than most. Rather than follow a variety of characters across the entire world, Richard Ford chooses to hone in on one city, or to be more accurate – a cityport. Steelhaven, and populates it with a vast amount of inhabitants, fleshing each of them out and developing them into more than just your average one dimensional, stock fantasy heroes.
Although the narrative is divided between multiple characters, The principal character is Janessa, daughter of King Cael, and focuses on Janessa’s role when Cael is, at the start of the story – off fighting a war. And therefore, even though the larger responsibilities of government are left to councillors of her father, Janessa still has to deal with the smaller scale bureaucratic duties. Many of the other seven characters however, could easily fit stereotypical roles, which by saying this would almost make me hypocritical by going back on my earlier statement about them being one dimensional and your standard heroes. But they’re not. Ford has taken a similar approach to what Whedon took with Firefly, and deliberately work within these predefined roles. However, it’s the strong level of storytelling that Ford brings to the table here – with some great character interaction, and some fantastic character development over the course of the book, and at the end – leaving the reader eagerly awaiting more, and what’s more – you’ll care about these characters. You won’t treat them like they’re just talking plot points designed to advance a story, you’ll treat them like genuine people. They’re that well developed.
Of course, in a grimdark fantasy, you’ll expect action – and that’s exactly what Ford gives us. It’s unrelenting, gritty, and moves along, taking no prisoners. Creating attention to characters as well as the action and handling both in a way that still leaves plenty of time for worldbuilding, Ford has managed to create the perfect balance. Whilst there may not be one ongoing, main plot thread that tangles all the little extras together, the book is very good at exploring different, subplots across the city. What we don’t get is a sense that there’s an overall story, but that’s pretty much one of the few issues that I had with Herald of the Storm, the only thing preventing it from getting top marks. However, with two books left, there is plenty of time to develop a main plot thread, but with the way that Ford handles everything else, you almost won’t care.
Therefore, despite its one small issue then – Herald of the Storm is a strong opener, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting Ford’s next book set in the city of Steelhaven.