Stranger of Tempest by Tom Lloyd
I spotted Stranger of Tempest a while ago when the stunning cover was running amok on the internet and was immediately keen to pick up a copy as it looked and sounded great. Does the book live up to the promise? Yes, I’m happy to say it does. I found this a really intriguing story and a great set up for the rest of the series. It’s a great blend of fantasy and action set predominantly in dark tunnels and a ruined city that are riddled with scary creatures, unusual dwellers and something even darker that stalks the night
At the start of the story we witness a man called Lynx as he searches for his latest meal ticket. He reluctantly finds work with a band of mercenaries known as The Cards who are about to head out on their latest mission. Lynx is answerable to nobody, he doesn’t seek much in life above a full stomach and is content to take on any number of small jobs usually trying to avoid bands of mercenaries and other conflicts. However, when he’s approached by a group of hardened mercs who are about to take on the rescue of a kidnapped young girl he can’t refuse. Of course, the best laid plans rarely go accordingly and the same can be said of this rescue. Within fairly short measure things have headed downhill and Lynx and the band of Cards are being chased by an army of religious fanatics (The Knights Charnel accompanied by the Torquen dragoons) and the only hope of outrunning their pursuers is to take the tunnels that lead to the Duegar City ruins.
For a first in series I was really impressed with the great balance between world building, characterisation and plot that the author achieves, there’s still a lot to be explored but this is a tantalising first instalment. This has the makings of a fascinating and gripping series and I really look forward to learning more about the world that Lloyd has created. The Riven Kingdom has mages whose magic differs and in turn seems to have an affinity with certain elementals (I don’t think I have a full grip on elementals – little is known about them as people who encounter them usually don’t live to tell the tale, there are fire elementals for example and it will be interesting to see how this aspect is expanded upon). The Kingdom has suffered a number of wars and clearly the possibility of conflict still looms on the horizon.
The characters. Well, we obviously have the Mercenary Deck or The Cards as they’re more commonly known. These are a rough bunch of characters whose origins and histories differ widely. They fight hard and play hard and in that respect I suppose they don’t bring anything new to the mercenary role – however, in spite of that I enjoyed reading about them and their loyalty to each other is clearly defined. They’re a diverse bunch of characters, definitely not shy of drinking, gambling and fighting, their language is colourfully entertaining and they’re certainly flawed.
The key members of the Cards are given a bit of fleshing out and certainly enough to demonstrate their allegiances/friendships and capabilities. Lynx is the main character and his personality is developed very well with occasional moments where he reflects on his past. These don’t come across as info dumps at all I hasten to add. Link is So Han, a race of people who are warriors. In the past they swept across the country fighting and terrorising their neighbours in a bid for supremacy. Not exactly renowned for their friendly disposition and kindness they have consequently become a race of people that are feared and despised in equal measure. Lynx, whilst being So Han, defies expectations by having a keen sense of honour and a will to do the right thing – traits that saw him imprisoned for his trouble. These are the primary characteristics that define Lynx and also lead him into a whole bunch of trouble. The other main characters are Toil and Sitain. I don’t really want to say too much about either as it would definitely lead to the Land of Spoilers. What I can say is that both, whilst on the face of it appearing to be damsels in distress, are far from it. Sitain is a mage, very inexperienced and certainly not in control of her own abilities, but with a strange affinity to night elementals. Toil also seems to have something of a background and turns into something of a female Indiana Jones leading the crew fearlessly through the labyrinth of tunnels and evading all sorts of traps and critters along the way. I suspect that both of these characters will play very prominent roles in the series.
And so to the setting. Well, we basically go underground. In an attempt to escape pursuit The Cards, Lynx and their two unlikely damsels in distress, take the much feared tunnels that lead to the ruins of Duegar. This is not a road to be taken lightly and within fairly short measure we find out the reasons why. The darkness in these tunnels is just plain eerie. Huge insects, waspids and a race of people known as the Whisper Clans occupy this space and you can’t help wondering why they would want to do so! There is clearly a strange balance struck between them all and strangers wandering aimlessly into their midst clearly upset that precarious balance. Not to mention the smell of ‘walking food’ is clearly an incentive for all sorts of strange critters to come out of their hidey-holes! The ruined city is also a very strange place. Vast ruins that even now, amidst an encroaching jungle, are spectacular in their scope. Creeping vines and plants that are carnivorous all add to the menace.
I can’t deny that Stranger of Tempest shares a number of similarities to Tolkien’s LoTR. The creature on the cover undoubtedly puts me in mind of a Balrog and the character could almost be shouting ‘you shall not pass’, the tunnels are as dark and dangerous as the Mines of Moria and are swarming with dark characters and this has a road adventure feel with a band of characters trying to stay one step ahead of the game. However, the similarities end there. It actually feels like a shout out to Tolkien but with a story that stands on it’s own two feet and a cast of gritty characters that have nothing in common with those from the Fellowship.
In terms of criticisms, very little really. This is a fast paced and action packed story with plenty of surprises and conflicts that are well described and easy to imagine. I was puzzled by the weapons which seem a little bit more advanced than you would expect and would like to know more about how all of this was developed. I would like to know more of the history here both in terms of the So Han and the Charnel Knights but that being said there is plenty of time for those issues to be examined further and frankly I think for the first instalment Lloyd has struck the perfect balance and given us a compelling read, unburdened by info dumps that leave a desire to read on and find out more.
I would definitely recommend.
I received a copy through Netgalley courtesy of the publisher for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.
This review appeared originally at The Speculative Herald.