The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley

heartofstone

Plot

Task is a 400 year old Golem, amongst the last of his kind. He was built with old magics as a tool of war, bound to the bidding of his human master. But something went wrong in Task’s creation that gave him the ability to think and feel. Weary of the ugliness and chaos of war, over the years he has deadened himself to the destruction he is forced to wreak on humankind. That is, until he meets a fearless young stable girl who awakens feelings in him that have long lain dormant.

Dangerous feelings – like hope.

Characters

Task – A complex non-human PoV, Task is a Golem with independent thought and feelings. The magic binding him has rules that he is forced to follow, including obedience and an inability to hurt his master, though he has found small ways to resist when he finds his orders to be distasteful.

Lesky – A plucky stable girl with a cheerful  and interesting outlook on life, Lesky is a likable and persistent child who responds to Task with curiosity rather than the more common reaction of fear.

Dartridge – Task’s Master and General of the Truehards (the loyalists). Dartridge is a privileged and spoiled man who was handed his position by his father, rather than through merit and hard work. He is short tempered and arrogant to the point of sadism, and is disliked by his men.

Ellia – A charming noblewoman with unclear motivations and a manipulative personality. I find myself reminded of Mrs. Coulter from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

Alabast – A legendary knight who has fallen from grace. Famous for slaying the last dragon, now he spends his days drinking and running away from his debts. He is coerced into serving The Fading (the rebels) as their own “weapon of war” against Task.

The Dregs – A group of Truehard soldiers, the lowest in rank and generally overlooked and mistreated. They are a ragtag group who show Task kindness because like them, he’s an outcast.


My Thoughts

First off, I’d like to say that if you’re an audiobook fan then this is one you should own. The performance of Adam Stubbs is nothing short of incredible – his Golem voice quite literally made my jaw drop, and he just does a stellar job from top to bottom.

The Heart of Stone is a multi-PoV military fantasy with a beating heart. A civil war is raging between the Truehards and the Fading – the Truehards are loyal to the king and believe that the Fading attempted a coup after the death of the previous king. The king’s heir, however, was a small boy at the time of the previous king’s death, and the Fading feel that the boy king’s advisers don’t have the best interests of the realm at heart. Both positions are understandable, and one of the many nice touches of the novel is that there are characters who have a lot in common on both sides. There’s a definite feeling that these people could be friends if their situation hadn’t pitted them against one another.

Character development is a big strength of the novel, and that’s something that always makes me happy. Task’s thought processes are alien and fascinating, but he’s imbued with such an interesting sense of morality and humanity that he’s relatable even when he’s mulling over his resentment of humans (to the point that he calls us ‘skinbags’ as a mark of his disgust). All of the main circle of characters are well developed and their motivations are logical (although sometimes shrouded in mystery for the sake of the plot). Lesky in particular is a child character who manages to be precocious and wise without being irritating, which is an achievement in itself. Add to that a fallen knight – Alabast has a drinking problem, a womanizing problem, a debt problem and a yellow belly. Despite this he’s a charming rogue of a character and his growth throughout the novel really won me over.

The magic system of the Golems and the abilities of humans is pretty well explored and interesting, and I don’t want to get into it too deeply here since it’s integral to the plot. The setting is functional and the cultures are developed enough that it feels like an authentic world and not just a backdrop to the story. The dialogue between characters is one way in which the novel really shines, in fact probably my favorite scene in the whole novel is just a simple card game being played between a bunch of the characters. Their interactions and chemistry were so spot-on that they began to feel less like characters in a book and more like friends. I can’t ask for more than that.

The conclusion is excellent and wraps up tidily without loose threads – it’s a very satisfying, bittersweet ending that had me close to tears a couple of times. I know this is one I’ll be happy to revisit over the years. If you’re looking for a standalone novel that delivers, look no further.

Score: 8.6/10

r/Fantasy Bingo 2017 Squares

  • Non-Human Protagonist
  • Self Published
  • Published in 2017

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