Publication Date: June 28th, 2016
Series: Empire of Storms, #1
Genre: Fantasy, Sci-fi, YA
I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this book, and I was even less sure when I started reading. It took me a while to get settled into the world, and here’s why: this book is Pirates of the Caribbean meets the Godfather meets Elektra meets I-don’t-even-know-what.
This book is the ultimate combination of pirates and ninjas with a fantastical, slightly sci-fi twist. I wasn’t sure if it was going to work out. But to Skovron’s credit, it totally did.
As a young child, a girl witnesses the horrifying massacre at the hands of the Empire’s biomancers, mages capable of manipulating living materials. Traumatized and orphaned, she is taken in by a group of warrior monks called Vinchen and secretly trained in their ways despite females being forbidden from the Vinchen order. Unable to recall her own name, the monks give her the name Bleak Hope in honor of her destroyed village.
In another part of the empire, an eight year old boy finds himself orphaned by drugs and illnesses, forcing him out into the slums. He is discovered by the criminal Sadie the Goat, who recognizes his cleverness. takes him aboard her crew and calls him Red for his red eyes as a result of his mother’s drug use during his pregnancy. Sadie teaches Red the ways of a wag, to fight, steal, and throw knives. Red grows up, esteeming to be the greatest thief in Paradise Circle.
We follow Hope and Red’s individual stories till they converge when the two are older. They’re both interesting characters, but follow familiar archetypes. Bleak Hope is the perfect name for our female heroine. She is stoic, solemn, and honorable. She’s obsessed with the vow she’s taken to avenge her village. Some might find her a bit lackluster since she’s not your typical saucy, sarcastic woman that we often see in the warrior female lead roles. Personally, I’m a such a softie when it comes to stories about women taking on men’s roles. And let’s remember that she is a ninja after all: you know, quiet but deadly. Red, on the other hand, is the charismatic thief with a heart of gold. He’s definitely the funnier one of the pair, but they end up complementing each other and making a great dynamic duo. Naturally, there’s also a romance element between the two, but it wasn’t all soppy and gross, thank goodness.
While the pair can at times come off as “Mary and Gary Stu” with their mad skills and ability to overcome insurmountable tasks, I think what sells it was the world building. With the crazy mix of plot elements and tropes, Jon Skovron is able to pull it off by building a world that neatly connects them together and makes it believable. He creates rich cultures, social classes, and even an impressive vocabulary of unique lingo and curses; though be warned, crude references to genitalia are common in the dialogue.
The real reason I rated this a 4 star as opposed to a 5 was that the plot structure seemed a bit wonky to me, like the book almost should’ve been split into two parts. The plot structure I was always taught in English was: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. This seemed to happen a few times within the book.
I’d be reading along and something crazy would be happening. I’m staring at my Kindle screen, saying to myself, “Oh my gosh, this is crazy, this has to be the climax of the story! Oh wait, I’m only 57% through the book…” This may have happened a few times, which drove me a little nuts. I feel that perhaps emotionally I might’ve felt a deeper connection to the Hope and Red if the book had been split in half.
But, I will say the ending note that the book left off on was surprising, totally unexpected, and left me anxious to see what happens next.
All in all, I call that a success! The book is being released on Tuesday, so go out and get it!
Disclaimer: I received a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!