In the last few years, much of my non-reading entertainment has been focused on fantasy worlds in one way or another, whether it be the adventures of Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit movies or the latest season of Game of Thrones. Add to that a bit of gaming with The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim that in itself contains a fantasy world that takes hundreds of hours to explore properly, I’ve had my share of fantasy worlds. My reading, on the other hand, has often ventured into the sci-fi genre so when I heard about Rise of the Storm, written by Christina Ochs (one of the authors I’ve gotten to know as part of the monthly Writing Challenge on Twitter) had to take a closer look.
Rise of the Storm takes place in a fictional fantasy world based loosely on the geography of Europe. It’s a story that features the typical conflict between good and evil central to so many fantasy stories, complete with interpersonal drama, battles and a heavy dose of religious conflict.
The story itself takes us through Prince Kendryk’s discovery of a branch of the universal faith that is at odds with official interpretation espoused by Empress Teodora. As Kendryk ponders what to make of this new revelation and its outspoken proponent, he knows that regardless of whether he decides to support the so called heretic or toe the party line on faith in his kingdom, his decision will impact the peace and prosperity of not only his kingdom but also all of those around him. Ultimately, it could lead to all out war with Teodora.
Eventually, after much soul searching, he is convinced that he has no choice but to pursue what he perceives to be the truth. Once his decision has been made, Kendryk’s wife Gwynneth plays a central role in their attempts to shore up support for Kendryk’s position from their allies but also becomes the source of one of the greatest betrayals against her husband. This betrayal causes a great amount of emotional pain for both of them and ultimately jeopardizes Kendryk’s plans to defend his kingdom against the forces of Teodora.
The story also follows Braeden, a fighter for Teodora. Through his eyes, we witness battles, military campaigns and we get to see Empress Teodora through the eyes of one of her subjects.
Another character that features prominently in the story is Jenna, a house wife that ends up on the run after Teodora’s army conquers her rebellious home city. The tribulations of Jenna are by far the most punishing of the story. She goes from having everything to having literally nothing, suffering unimaginable horrors just to be able to stay alive and to keep her children alive. In the end, she finds herself all alone. Salvation comes from an unexpected direction in the form of Braeden, who treats her with respect and takes care of her despite her background. The development of their relationship is another fascinating facet of this story.
The characters are all put through their paces, some more than others. Kendryk experiences a spiritual struggle of sorts that translates into his real world actions while Gwynneth, not quite convinced of Kendryk’s spiritual awakening, struggles with his new direction but believes in him enough to support what he believes, even when she herself gives in to temptations from unexpected directions, unintentionally jeopardizing everything her husband is trying to achieve. Braeden, as the warrior he is, is constantly confronted by moral choices on the battlefield, choices that paint a picture of a warrior that is more than just a brutal killer.
As with other fantasy stories, Rise of the Storm culminates with a final battle between good and evil, or in this case, Teodora and Kendryk, a battle that shapes the future of their world as well lays the foundation for the next book in the series.
Creating fictional worlds is never easy but I think the author does a great job creating a believable world for the characters of the story while avoiding going into excessive descriptions of every minute detail of the surroundings encountered by the characters. It helps move the story along while at the same time allowing the reader to fill in the blanks with their own imagination (something I often do and like to do). Really, Rise of the Storm is a novel that will reward the reader that takes the time to get familiar with the geography of the kingdom through the detailed map in the beginning of the book. It’s a great help when it comes to understanding the impact of the actions taken by various characters throughout the story as well as the importance of the various areas.
What really stands out with Rise of the Storm to me are the attention to detail on everything from geopolitical struggles to interpersonal conflicts and varying religious points of view. In the end, the differences in opinion on matters of faith is what drives the story to its climax, putting “heretics” against the only true way in the final battle where only one can come out ahead.
While the story is expertly crafted and the background material seems well researched, some aspects of the story did trip me up. There are a few instances when the decisions made by the characters seemed, for a lack of better words, out of character.
For example, Gwynneth’s betrayal and Kendryk’s initial response to this betrayal is powerful and very emotional. There’s a lot of soul searching and drama on both sides of this betrayal once its out in the open. A time of separation follows and then the inevitable reunion where suddenly all is forgiven by Kendryk. Although this act of forgiveness is something I had expected, it seemed very sudden and even if taken on the account of his devotion to his faith and believes, it felt sudden and unexpected. I expected more drama.
Another example is the final battle towards the end of the book. As the momentum builds for both sides to finally confront each other, the end result is given away by Kendryk’s matter-of-fact good-bye to his wife before the battle. It’s almost as if he appears certain that loss is inevitable and it feels as if he’s going to battle just to fulfill his duty more so than actually fighting to win. After the build-up and prior skirmishes where a lot of effort was put into slowing down the enemy forces, it felt a bit anticlimactic.
Rise of the Storm is, despite some of the quirky character behavior noted above, a great fantasy story that builds a world you can dive into and embrace on a large and pretty detailed scale with an amazing attention to detail in everything from the mundane, such as living conditions, to castles and grand battles. If you’re into fantasy at all, it’s well worth the read and the first book will leave you thirsty for more (good news, there are two other books in the series).
You can also buy Rise of the Storm on Amazon for your Kindle or in paperback.