Storm and Steel Author: Jon Sprunk Series: The Book of the Black Earth 2 Publisher: Pyr, June 2, 2015 Format: Trade Paperback and eBook, 515 pages Price: $18.00 (print) ISBN: 978-1-63388-010-8 (print) Review Copy: Provided by the Publisher
An empire at war. Three fates intertwined.
The Magician. Horace has destroyed the Temple of the Sun, but now he finds his slave chains have been replaced by bonds of honor, duty, and love. Caught between two women and two cultures, he must contend with deadly forces from the unseen world.
The Rebel. Jirom has thrown in his lot with the slave uprising, but his road to freedom becomes ever more dangerous as the rebels expand their campaign against the empire. Even worse, he feels his connection with Emanon slipping away with every blow they strike in the name of freedom.
The Spy. Alyra has severed her ties to the underground network that brought her to Akeshia, but she continues the mission on her own. Yet, with Horace's connection to the queen and the rebellion's escalation of violence, she finds herself treading a knife's edge between love and duty.
Dark conspiracies bubble to the surface as war and zealotry spread across the empire. Old alliances are shattered, new vendettas are born, and all peoples-citizen and slave alike-must endure the ravages of storm and steel.
Storm and Steel is the second book in a gritty fantasy series by Jon Sprunk. Like the first book, the story takes place in a North African-like setting, with plenty of desert scenery. The Akeshian Empire has hints of Egyptian and Babylonian cultural influences. Much like the first book, I have a love-hate relationship with this book. Overall, the plot is well developed and I enjoyed what he put his characters through and how the world building continues to expand. I even liked the few deaths that occurred and felt they helped give a sense of doom to the story.
Two of the areas I feel Sprunk shines in are character development and story pacing. There is some great character development in this second book. The love triangle that was hinted at in the first book is thankfully gone while there is still plenty of romantic tension between the three main characters and their love interests.
One aspect of the character development that I felt Sprunk dropped the ball on was Horace's magical ability. I praised him in the first book by taking it slow and not allowing the hero to develop into a master magician. However, now after reading the second book and seeing Horace continue to seem to have no clue on how to use his magical gift, I'm getting annoyed. He doesn't need to be a master at the arts, but it would be nice if he understood how to control and use his magic with more confidence. I feel like by dragging this one out Sprunk is making Horace turn into a dunce.
I also feel the pacing in the story could use some help. I usually love how Sprunk sprinkles in enough action to keep me reading and excited in between the slower introspective periods, but the beginning of the book just dragged along far too slowly for me. The end is great classic Sprunk, but it seemed a little too late in the game. Storm and Steel falls flat for me in what was a promising new series. I'm still invested in the characters and the overall plot of the series to read the next book, but I hope the pacing is faster and Horace finally figures out how to use his powers. If you've already read the first book and liked it, I would say continue on with the series as the characters are still great. But, if you haven't started the series, I'd wait to see how book three turns out. Due to the violence, use of adult language and sexual situations, I would recommend it to adults.