Storm and Steel (The Book of the Black Earth)
by Jon Sprunk
Cover Artist: Jason Chan
Review by Scott Harkless
Pyr Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781633880108
Date: 02 June 2015 List Price $18.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Horace held power over life and death, as well as an order from an exotic queen to crush a rebellion. Yet Horace had been a slave, he knew what horrors the slaves rebelled against. Storm and Steel is the second book of the Black Earth series (following Blood and Iron) by Jon Sprunk. This is primarily a high fantasy focused on a character named Horace, who was a shipwright who after having been shipwrecked across a great sea has discovered great magical power and been appointed First Sword to the Queen of this new land.
Our hero has an interesting dilemma as he has both political and magical power. His use of this power is often at odds with his moral character, and in many ways this is your central conflict in this story. The interesting part about this is that most of the conflict between the Queen's realistic desire to require the slave rebellion put down, and Horace's desire for a peaceful resolution to the conflict are equally understandable. Things are complicated by the diverse desires of the rebels themselves, and the machinations of plotting noblemen.
Where this book is strong is in its mix of intrigue and action. There is enough to keep you wondering on a chapterly basis what is going to happen next, and the scenes with the rebels in particular are full of fast paced action. Your characterization is fairly good, although the main character could use a foil in close proximity in his sections for him to interact with. Of particular note are the genuinely sweet and interesting interactions between the rebellion warrior Jerome and his lover, the rebellion leader. Their interplay can be quite entertaining.
This is definitely a middle book though. The book follows middle part story structure fairly soundly in that it destroys the status quo from the end of the first book and shakes up the situation for the beginning of the third book. If that were a weakness, it would be in the difficulty a new reader may have in approaching this series. Very little of the previous story is explained, and one often may feel a little lost if the previous story is not fresh in one's mind.
Over all Storm and Steel is a lot of fun, and might not be a bad choice for someone looking for a high fantasy with intrigue and moral complexity. This book might be a good read for a fan of Roger Zelazny, George R.R. Martin, or anyone who likes the mystery of magic mixed with intrigue.