Ben Galley wanted to fight the Big Bad Wolf, so he created a monster. He used some ancient magic to bind pieces of wind-cut granite together into a gigantic golem.
No, wait, that doesn’t sound right!
What did I read then? Wasn’t there a hunter? No, it was a massive war machine, made of stone?
There definitely was someone called Huff. And the little Red-Riding Hood.
No? Okay, let’s try again.
A crazy warlord and mass murderer creates the greatest warrior from wind-cut stone and ancient magic. The resultant golem is Task.
He is invincible, regenerative hence almost immortal but for his…(read the book if you want to know what), bound by magic to obey his master and adhere to three rules (again, read the book).
His service for his masters is usually related to annihilation, destruction, mayhem. One problem, the stone develops a heart. The golem, unusual since creation, talks, thinks, starts to feel, and ultimately attempts to break free from his master’s influence.
Red Riding Hood
A pesky little girl without the red riding hood has secrets of her own and befriends our big stone guy in a war camp.
The Big Bad Wolf
Huff does exactly as his name suggests. He huffs and puffs and tries to blow away his enemy’s houses. He is a child-like psychopath suffering delusions of grandeur and enjoying nepotistic rank and privileges of the royal army general.
His antics at attempts to generate undeserved respect from his subjects often made me think that General Dartridge and Huff were two different people. General Dartridge sounds authoritative while Huff is just a puffy balloon inflated with ego.
A devil in disguise
Where did that come from?
Secretive Spy, traitorous friend, a formidable foe. Can’t reveal the name and spoil the fun. Read the book. The woman is mysterious and elusive, and successfully hides her megalomaniac thirst for vengeance from the wisest eyes. Wish I could get my hands on her throat. Ahem, moving on.
A guy in a wheelchair shows the strongest spine among the non-magical beings. Ben Galley doesn’t make us break into tears by highlighting a disabled general’s sorrows. Instead, he makes our heart swell by showing us his solidity in character even in distress.
The once-legendary knight living in the remnants of his past glory shows some vestiges of his might when the need arises. He is an adorable character, a clichéd knight in not-so-shining armor trying to cling to his pride. Another one who shows moral fiber at the right time.
I expected more from the foreign ambassador who never gets a chance at character development but shows promise before the end.
As a standalone novel, The Heart of Stone impressed me with its rich characterization and a straightforward plot. Ben Galley has a beautiful writing style. The simple language and an omniscient third person point of view complement the deeper philosophy of politics, religion, war and their effect on ordinary lives.
The story proceeds at a mixed pace.
I appreciated the breathing moments after the intense action or emotionally challenging scenes. The threads of interest started snipping away at instances when characters started narrating the backstories. However, the side-stories were interesting enough to let me go on.
One of my favorite things in a fantasy novel are the beasts. The Heart of Stone only offers golems and a dying dragon, making me wish the firns and fawls were somewhat exciting.
The last third of the plot moves faster, giving a little time to adjust to the emotional roller coaster as each of the beloved characters suffer expected and unexpected fates.
Task and Pesky, sorry, Lesky (can’t seem to help myself), are introduced to us in two short chapters.
The harsh world of Hartlund never fails to amaze and repel at the same time. A land ridden with spoils of a long and unnecessary war, sees her people starve, enlist in the army mostly against their wishes, man and beast live in their own muck.
Ben has created a sad world, and he has built it with care. His super power lies in the description. I like elaborate world-building in a book if it is relevant and unique. This one was nearly so.
Hartlund wasn’t meant to make you googly eyed thinking about green meadows and laughing streams. It’s is a battlefield, and it smells of blood, feces, and worse, just how it should. But the simplicity and beauty of language (a gentleman’s prose, I must say) never let you cringe away from even the goriest scenes.
The gentleman-author has, however, showed an obsessive focus on the army concept of a moving ‘latrine’ a bit too much. Oh, he taught me an offensive new word used for lowly soldiers. Scrotum. How do I use it, and on whom?
Action and emotion
Task receives the spotlight of the action scenes for obvious reasons. The immensely talented Shawn King is the architect of the stunning cover art and gives life to Task. Each scene is memorable, be it the enormous mass of stone preparing for an attack, or crushing his enemies with his bare hands, or even when he is struggling for control under unsubtle insults from the infantile general.
One wouldn’t expect the likes of a war-machine taking part in tender scenes of friendship, mourning for lost lives, raging against injustice. One would be proved wrong.
I may not have cried even once, but each death tugged at my heart. I felt I was becoming a charging golem at one moment and a glimpse at another, seeing it all, knowing it all, yet waiting for the inevitable.
The Heart of Stone is the first book I have read from Ben Galley’s impressive body of work, and I can assure you, it won’t be the last.
I have enjoyed the book and offer four
The Heart of Stone is a must read if you can appreciate a long-lasting platonic relationship between protagonists in a brutal and violent battlefield set up that stay with you long after you have finished reading the book.
A note to those who find this review and the book interesting.
I am no good with arts. Hence, I refer you to the wickedly talented Blogin’ Hobgoblin. Trevor has created something extraordinary with the stunning cover.
I received an ARC from Ben Galley in exchange for my honest review, and he has done nothing to influence my opinion.
Let me know if you liked the book. If you have any suggestion or wish to discuss this book, please do use the comment section.