Book Review: Stormblood (The Commons, #1) by Jeremy Szal

Book Review: Stormblood (The Commons, #1) by Jeremy Szal

ARC provided by the author and publisher—Gollancz—in exchange for an honest review.

Stormblood by Jeremy Szal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Series: The Common (Book #1)

Genre: Sci-fi, Military sci-fi

Pages: 432 pages

Published: 4th June 2020 by Gollancz

Milestone achieved: This is my 400th review!

A captivating military sci-fi debut. Stormblood tells a splendid story about two brothers divided by war that is full of comradeship, actions, and conflict.

Here’s an ugly truth, I haven’t been reading a lot of sci-fi lately. I was able to read 115 books in 2019, and only eight of those books were sci-fi novels. For this year’s priority sci-fi TBR pile, I have only ten sci-fi books on my list; nine of them belong to the entirety of The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey, the other one is Stormblood, Jeremy Szal’s debut. I came to know about this book because the author—same as me—is a huge fan of Red Rising Saga by Pierce Brown and Mass Effect video game franchise, and after reading this book, I can say that both inspirations are evident in his novel. I definitely would suggest anyone who’s a fan of either one of them, even better if both, to check this debut out.

“People compare overcoming addiction to climbing a mountain, but that assumes there’s a peak to climb towards. Stormtech was more like swimming in an endless, churning sea. You never truly beat it. You just found temporary ways not to drown.”

The official blurb on Goodreads and Amazon did a great job of telling the premise of the book; please read that instead if you want to know the premise of this novel. Stormblood is a book that revolves heavily around drug addiction, in the case of this novel, to Stormtech, a DNA harvested from an extinct alien race that allows its user to become closer to a perfect soldier. Anyone who has Stormtech injected into their body will have an insatiable thrill and compulsion for aggression and adrenaline rush, and even though the addiction and side effects have been proven to be deadly, there’s an emerging market for it. The physical benefits—healing, strength, power—that can be gained from using Stormtech are too good to miss, and the consumer demands for it are everlasting. With this concept, Szal conveys a compelling and relatable story about drug trafficking, war, regrets, and sacrifice in a futuristic setting.

“No matter how deadly it was, as long as there were people willing to buy and people willing to sell, the drug market would exist.”

To be honest, Stormblood slightly differs from what I thought it would be. The premise and official blurb led me to believe that this is an action-packed novel with a rampaging main character. And technically, it’s not wrong, there were indeed moments where the narrative powerfully shifted its gear towards that direction. However, there’s so much more to it rather than all actions. Camaraderie, friendships, and family—especially brotherhood—are three utterly prevailing themes in the narrative. Stormblood doesn’t have a lot of cast of characters, only four notable characters: Vakov Fusakawa, Grim, Katherine Kowalski, and Artyom. The low number of characters worked well in enriching the characterizations and background of these characters even though the story is told solely from Vakov’s first-person perspective. These characters have their personality polished and fleshed out, and although the action scenes of this book were definitively great, it is the spotlight on Vakov’s relationship with Grim, Katherine, Artyom, and his past Reaper’s gang that made me enjoy reading Stormblood further.

“Home isn’t where you’re born, Vakov. It’s where you feel calm and peace, even in a storm.”

I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed this book more if it weren’t because of the strong friendship and brotherhood imbued into the narrative. This is mostly due to timing reason, somehow the last first-person perspective book that I read—The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold—also involved a drunkard main character who can’t stop drinking, Vakov is the same; he can’t get drunk but he loves drinking so much that almost every moment of his spare time was spent on them. It felt to me like I was reading about the same type of the main character again too soon. Luckily, Vakov’s friendship with Grim and his brotherhood with Artyom was able to give a more distinctive feel to the main character and narrative. I must say that Stormblood has one of the most well-written take on brotherhoods in sci-fi that I’ve ever read so far. Vakov’s love for Artyom felt genuine, and despite having their lives divided by harsh circumstances and obligations brought by war and broken family, Szal’s portrayal of their brotherhood was evocative and relatable.

“Even if it hurts, even if you hate me, I will never pretend you don’t matter. I’ll never stop trying to make things right. Because that’s what being your brother means.”

Szal also has a writing style that clicked with me. His way with words when it comes to describing the setting of his scenes was vivid, descriptive, and efficient. There were indeed times where the description of setting slowed down the pacing considerably, especially when I was eager to know what’s going to happen next, but Szal’s way of writing tries to make sure that readers can imagine the situation and setting of each scene. I was able to imagine Vakov’s surroundings in my head; I was able to feel the way the HUD looked, the way the armor felt on Vakov’s skin, and the way the Stormtech moves inside the recipients. All of these were written vividly and efficiently. Plus, Szal superbly utilized two timeframes into his storytelling, the flashback uses first-person present-tense narration, and the present timeline uses first-person past-tense narration. Both timeframes worked wonderfully for the world-building of the novel, and most importantly, improving the characterizations of Vakov.

“But that’s the burden of being human: doing right by the people you love, long after it’s stopped making sense.”

When it comes down to the writing, though, I do believe that the action scenes are where Szal’s prose shines the most. The battles were exciting, thrilling, and brimming energy. The physical and mental pain that Vakov felt throughout the novel was palpable; the action sequences reminded me of Pierce Brown’s visceral actions and pacing. Seriously, once you reached the nightware section in early part of the novel, you should be able to form a general idea on the quality of Szal’s action sequences.

“We’d fought together in battle, saved each other’s lives. Alcatraz taught me that’s a bond, a debt that transcends all other debts. One that can’t and shouldn’t, ever be repaid.”

The book ended on a very standalone manner, no need to be fearful of a cliffhanger. I highly enjoyed reading this military sci-fi debut, Stormblood feels like a superb combination of the actions in Red Rising Saga and the world-building of Mass Effect. Exciting, thought-provoking, and full of incredibly intense moments, military sci-fi readers would be treating themselves good by putting Stormblood on their radar.

“The universe is full of people obsessed with concerning themselves with what others do, if only to tell them they’re wrong for not doing it their way.”

Official release date: 4th June 2020

You can pre-order the book from: Amazon UK | Book Depository (Free shipping)

The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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