The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley

Posted On 30 March 2017

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heartThe 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.

 

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Friday Firsts: The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley

FridayFirsts
Friday Firsts
 is a new meme that runs every Friday over on Tenacious Reader. The idea is to feature the first few sentences/paragraph of your current book and try and outline your first impressions as a result. This is a quick and easy way to share a snippet of information about your current read and to perhaps tempt others.  Stop on by and link up with Tenacious Reader.    This Friday I’m reading, well, like last week, a couple of books but I’ve gone with Heart of Stone by Ben Galley.  Check it out:

Hos Final XS-1‘Keep still!’ a voice demanded.  ‘Keep still or it will take root in the wrong place, mercy me!’

He remained motionless as the soft hands dug inside his mouth; checking, shuffling, fixing.  His face felt so wide, so open.  He could feel his body tingling, as though he wore the dying embers of a fire.

‘There!’

He felt the fingers crawl back to his chin and cheeks.  Always touching.

Bite down, and slowly mind!’

His jaw did the work for him, clicking back into place under the guiding hands; teeth crunching, finding their nests.  The tongue began to burn in the pit of his mouth.

There came a clanking as the room swivelled about him.  Something tugged at him without touching, pulling at every corner of his body.  He felt heavier than a mountain.

‘It is time to open your eyes, my new friend!’

My First Impressions

I am absolutely intrigued by this start.  It makes you want to read on doesn’t it?  I can’t help but have at the back of my mind Frankenstein and his monster – don’t ask me why but just a feel of new creations.

What you reading this Friday??

*The above excerpt was taken from an advanced reader copy and it is possible that the final version may have further changes.

Cover Reveal: The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley

Today I’m really pleased to be able to reveal the cover for The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley.     Firstly a little bit about the book – to whet your appetite as it were:

Mercenary. Murderer. Monster. He has been called many names in his time.
Built for war and nothing else, he has witnessed every shade of violence humans know, and he has wrought his own masterpieces with their colours. He cared once, perhaps, but far too long ago. He is bound to his task, dead to the chaos he wreaks for his masters.
Now, he has a new master to serve and a new war to endure. In the far reaches of the Realm, Hartlund tears itself in two over coin and crown. This time he will fight for a boy king and a general bent on victory.
Beneath it all he longs for change. For something to surprise him. For an end to this cycle of warfare.
Every fighter faces his final fight. Even one made of stone.
And, now, I won’t keep you waiting any longer, feast your eyes on this gorgeous cover!
Hos Final XS-1
The first book I read by Ben Galley was part of the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off last year.    Bloodrush which is the first book in the Scarlet Star Trilogy.  I really loved it (my review here) and have just started the second in series.  Seriously, on the strength of Bloodrush alone Ben Galley is definitely an author on my wishlist!
Finally, a few more details of the whens, wheres and why fores:
Release Date:
Spring 2017 in eBook and paperback
Pre-Order Link:
You can sign up to be notified of The Heart of Stone’s release (as well as get a few pre-launch freebies like ARCs and sneak peeks) at: http://www.bengalley.com/heart-of-stone
And a few details about the author:
Ben Galley is the is the author of the epic Emaneska Series and a new western fantasy series, the Scarlet Star Trilogy. When he’s not dreaming up lies to tell his readers, Ben works as a self-publishing consultant, helping fellow authors to self-publish and sell their books. Ben can be found being loquacious and attempting to be witty on Twitter (@BenGalley), Facebook (/BenGalleyAuthor) or at his website www.bengalley.com.

Bloodrush by Ben Galley #SPFBO

Posted On 27 February 2016

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23956571.jpgBloodrush is my final book for the #SPFBO and coincidentally happens to have scored the highest rating from me.

Bloodrush is a book that takes us from the dark and foggy streets of an alternative Victorian London to the very edge of the frontier.  The story is a strange mash up of fantasy and western that I really enjoyed.

At the start of the story we discover that Tonmerion Hark, having recently become orphaned, is about to be sent overseas to be placed in the care of his remaining relative, Aunt Lilian. Merion is only 13 years old and not only has his father been murdered but he’s about to be sent to the western frontier. So Merion sets off on the long and torturous journey to, what feels like, the very edges of the world, or maybe hell.  Thankfully Merion isn’t alone, he’s accompanied by his friend of the past few years, a 12 inch member of the fae called Rhin.  Rhin has a whole bunch of secrets and unlike Merion is quite happy to find himself being removed to the farmost reaches of the world.

I don’t want to give too much away about the plot.  This is a voyage of discovery story for young Merion. He’s about to learn things about himself that he has until this point been blissfully unaware.  Merion has a strange legacy. Like his father before him him he possesses the ability to bloodrush – a certain type of magick that enables those with the ability to endow themselves with the characteristics of any number of animals, birds, fish, reptiles and insects by drinking their blood.  The premise is interesting, it takes a bit of a leap of faith but it contains a vast number of possibilities for all sorts of weird and wonderful scenarios.

The characters are an interesting bunch.  We have Merion, who, probably with reason, spends a good deal of the book huffing and puffing and basically feeling put upon. He could come across as a bit of a smacked arse sulky so and so but let’s not forget that his father has just been murdered, he’s had his privileges taken away, he’s been sent to a strange, to him, country and placed in the care of somebody he’s never met before and he then finds out he has a magick inheritance that he never dreamed of.  His one wish is to get back home and in focusing on this desire he can sometimes be a little short sighted plus – he’s 13.  In spite of that I liked Merion.  Rhin – he has his very own storyline running throughout the book.  He has a past that he’s trying to escape from but the fae following in his tracks are relentless and stubborn!  Aunt Lilian – she’s turned into the town’s undertaker.  She has her own secrets to keep and I dare say she never expected to find herself the guardian to a 13 year old boy.  Lurker is a great character.  A friend of Lilian’s he has his own blood rushing abilities that come in particularly useful when prospecting and lend him the friendship of a magpie.  Those are the main characters and we of course have the supporting cast of arch baddies and cunning fae.

I loved the western setting.  We have a frontier town where the railroads are forging ahead into new lands where they are frankly not always welcome – not only by the indigenous population but also the strange ghosts who seem to be able to use the very rail tracks themselves to turn into murderous monsters.

There is undoubtedly quite a lot going on here to enjoy.  I think what particularly sold this novel to me was the writing style.  Galley has a very engaging storytelling voice that I really enjoyed.  I thought he set the scene well, his characters were interesting but more than that he managed to bring a really good combination of intrigue, fantasy and horror together whilst also injecting humour and lighter moments into the story.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, this is a bit of a slow burner of a book – not an issue for me personally but may be for others and I admit that it probably could have been sharpened slightly.  I think my main issues could boil down to a slight irritation with finding out that Merion is about to become quite special in terms of bloodrushing (it’s just one of my pet irritations where the young protagonist finds out they’re super special) and the ending was a bit of a stretch.  Okay, I’m reading fantasy here so I’m already suspending belief to a very large extent but (and I’m trying to avoid spoilers here) I think I would have liked the ending to have been more of a team effort.

However, in spite of a few niggles, which were relatively minor, I really enjoyed this story.  The writing is captivating, the story is very entertaining, it’s intriguing and fun and I will certainly continue reading this series.