The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley
The Heart of Stone is a wonderful, bitter sweet and richly detailed book about a golem created with destruction in mind. A tale of harsh times that takes place in a country torn by civil war where fighting and death have become the norm and yet unexpectedly amongst the bloodshed, out of a small kernel of hope, a strange and unlooked for friendship grows and changes the outcome of the conflict.
The country of Hartlund has been torn by civil war for many years, divided between the loyalists who follow the Crown and the people’s uprising, people who are tired of living on the edge of desperation and have finally rebelled. As the story starts the rebellion is actually making headway and the royalists stand on the brink of defeat until, that is, they unleash their newest weapon. A wind-cut golem, the last survivor of it’s kind. Created during an era before magic was condemned and stamped out golems were bred with one thing in mind. War. Without heart or soul these were fearsome creatures, I suppose an early days Terminator if you will, they certainly know no pity or remorse. They kill people ruthlessly at the whim of the masters they serve.
Task is the last golem. He’s an unusual war machine because he does actually have feelings. He may be made of stone but deep down he cares. Naturally, over the course of his many years, he’s learned to stay remote. To not engage. He carries out his orders and learns to numb or ignore the feelings he may have.
This is a very easy story to engage with. The writing is good, the place is well imagined and the true focus of the piece is the characters. Obviously we have Task, the indestructible golem. What really drew me to him was listening to his inner thoughts. Yes, he has become very closed off, disappointed even, I suppose 400 years of war can lead to a good dose of cynicism when it comes to the motives of man, and yet, his hard exterior isn’t quite as tough as he likes to think. He’s more bark than bite really and it only takes a young girl, without anything to gain, just simply wanting to talk to him, to bring down his defences. The young girl is a stable hand known as Lesky, it takes a while for her story to finally be revealed and so I won’t go into that. Lesky is one of those characters with a ‘good head on her’. She talks a lot of sense and in spite of being a young female amidst a battle angry army she can look after herself.
On one side of the field we have General Huff, Task’s latest master – a bully of a man, keen to display his prowess on the field of battle by wielding his newest weapon. Definitely a man with no finesse, the term, taking a sledgehammer to a walnut could be written with him in mind as he uses Task to bludgeon his way through the enemy lines. Fighting on the other side is Lord Lash – a cunning opponent who has also tried to gain his men their own weapon in the form of a notorious, sword wielding dragon slayer known as Alabast. Regrettably, Alabast has spent so many years peering closely at the bottom of a bottle that he’s actually become a little reliant on strong liquor. Maybe not the best ‘weapon’ to have to rely on although don’t be fooled, sometimes stung pride and a well placed challenge can be all the motivation that a man needs. Then we have Ellia Frayne – also a great character surrounded by mystery. Like Lesky her story will slowly be revealed so, again, I won’t spoil it. Basically these characters are so easy to get on board with. They’re well developed and you can’t help loving some and equally hating others.
I can’t deny that this is a bloodthirsty number. There is plenty of death and destruction but there’s also hope, a light at the end of the tunnel and a chance at redemption. Which for me seems to be the main thrust of the story.
In terms of criticisms. There is quite a good deal of set up here, and, I almost reached a point where it felt like Task, rushing into battle and pounding, punching and pulverising his way through the opposing side, risked becoming repetitive – wash rinse, repeat – on reflection I can’t help wondering if that was a deliberate ploy by the author to give you a small glimpse into Task’s world, to see how it felt to relentlessly be at the whim of tyrants and to constantly be squashing the life out of people and watching the light in their eyes disappear. Fortunately, at that point the story went in a completely different direction and one that I really wasn’t expecting. Now, this is quite a hefty novel and there is plenty of character development and thoughtful speculation and some readers may feel this slows the plot a little. I didn’t personally feel like that, I enjoyed the build up. The character growth was really impressive. Sometimes this aspect is rushed, we’re simply ‘told’ how the characters have developed rather than being allowed to read about it as a natural progression as the story unfolds. I felt like this unforced development made me much more attached to the characters and to really care about them, which naturally helped to increase the anticipation as the situations they faced become more dangerous.
I can’t deny that this is an unusual tale with a bitter sweet ending that left me actually wanting more (I understand this is a standalone)? I enjoyed it, it’s not a book that you will race through, simply because you need to take the time to read it properly and absorb all the nuances, the betrayals and the twists. Well written, unique and with plenty of heart a book that put me in mind of Frankenstein in more ways than one. Both ‘monsters’ were created by the hand of man – but who was the real monster? At the end of the day Task was simply a weapon, used indiscriminately by which ever master currently held the key to his control. A good story, a thought provoking piece and definitely a tale with plenty of heart.
I received a copy from the author in exchange for a honest review. The above is my own opinion.