Storm and Steel (The Book of the Black Earth) - Jon Sprunk

Blood and Iron was a fun sword and sorcery romp, built upon the foundations of a complex, magic-filled fantasy world. While some of the character development disappointed, the novel itself never failed to entertain, flashing glimmers of potential greatness. And in Storm and Steel, Jon Sprunk goes a long way in fulfilling that promise.

Two story lines develop in tandem throughout this novel. One is the continuing journey of the former slave Horace, who ascended to the halls of power in Blood and Iron through the revelation of a magical talent he never suspected he had. Now, his life is one of constant doubt, fueled by his own inner feelings of inadequacies: lack of control over his magic, lack of friends in a hostile court environment, lack of experience handling political situations and lack of understanding regarding his attraction for two very different women (Queen Byleth of Erugash and the western slave Alyra). The second is the tale of Horace’s friend Jirom. This black, homosexual ex-mercenary finds himself neck deep in a slave uprising against Queen Byleth; his every instinct warning him to escape this madness, but his heart demanding that he remain beside Emanon, the man with whom he shares a strong romantic bond, even if it puts him at odds with Horace himself.

For those that loved the immersion of Horace into Akeshian politics and its constant machination, this installment of The Book of the Black Earth will take a bit of getting use to. Here Jon Sprunk spends a great deal of time focusing on Jirom and the slave rebellion, developing the characters, showing their diverse motives, and laying out the growing conflict. A conflict that slowly draws in Horace and takes him away from the royal court, as Queen Byleth orders him to destroy this threat to her reign or find himself without her continued support. But even with that being the case, never fear, because there is still lots of shadowy subversions going on within the Queen’s court and outside of it. Inside, there is a rash of mysterious murders. Without, the Sun Cult priests (Those who escaped Horace’s wrath in book one and fled to neighboring city-state of Akeshia) have gathered allies, planning an invasion of Erugash to cast down Byleth and her puppet wizard. And lingering over everything is a growing sense that there is a diabolical presence pulling the strings of everyone, waiting patiently for the perfect time to reveal itself!

On the whole, this second installment of the series is a better book than its predecessor; Jon Sprunk evolving the characters, the world around them, and introducing a deeper, darker plot that has been simmering right below the surface unnoticed. Now, there really aren’t any black and white characters in the series, only gray. The “heroes” beginning to show moments of true humanity, where they doubt themselves, are callow, selfish even, or ruthlessness, while the “villains” have times of introspection, explaining the reason for their seemingly evil actions and unveiling the desires and plans which drive them forward, even when they wonder if these choices might be wrong. Meanwhile, the world around these people becomes much more diverse, as Akeshia herself is explored, and different members of this fascinating Babylonian/Egyptian-inspired society reveal themselves. And that “deeper, darker plot” is partially unveiled at the end of this novel, promising even higher stakes for Horace and Jirom going forward.

All in all, if you enjoyed Blood and Iron, you definitely need to put this novel on your reading list. Storm and Steel is a great chance to experience a good, old-fashioned, sword and sorcery tour de force; one that perfectly mixes a sweeping fantasy world with non-stop action. And just when you begin to believe that is all it is (As if that weren’t enough!), Jon Sprunk pulls the rug out from under you at the end, unveiling another twist in the tale that leaves you wanting more. For with Storm and Steel, the author has delivered the next stage in the evolution of The Book of the Black Earth, tantalizing readers with the prospects of what is to come.

I received this book from Pyr in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.