Publisher: Gollancz (Trade Paperback – 4 June 2020)
Series: The Common – Book One
Length: 538 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
In the mood for an epic and elaborate science fiction debut? Then you will definitely want to check out Stormblood by Australian author Jeremey Szal, a compelling and ingenious novel that was a heck of a lot of fun to read.
In humanity’s far future, our species has just emerged from a brutal and destructive civil war between the seemingly benevolent Harmony and the ruthless Harvester empire. Harmony were able to win the war by creating the Reapers, elite soldiers who were injected with stormtech, the DNA of an extinct alien race, which permanently altered their bodies, making them stronger, faster and more effective soldiers. However, stormtech also had terrible side effects, making the host become addicted to their own adrenaline, which impacted on their minds and dramatically increased their natural aggression.
When the war ends, millions of Reapers are left shells of their former selves, having to deal with the terrible addictive impact of the alien DNA in their system, while stormtech became widely traded as an illicit drug across the galaxy. Amongst these former soldiers is Vakov Fukasawa, a member of an elite Reaper fireteam, who has managed to overcome his addiction to stormtech and now makes a living taking on dangerous odd jobs on Compass, a mega-city built into a massive asteroid. Vakov has grown vastly disillusioned with Harmony and their methods, but when he is approached by their agents to assist with an investigation, he is once again compelled into their service.
Somebody is killing his fellow former Reapers by poisoning the stormtech being passed around the city. In order to save the comrades he fought beside, Vakov agrees to help with the investigation, especially when it is revealed that Harmony’s only lead is Vakov’s estranged brother. However, the more Vakov investigates, the more people keep trying to kill him, and he soon finds himself caught in a vast conspiracy that threatens Compass and the entirety of Harmony. Can Vakov put a stop to this horrifying plot, or will untold death and destruction rain down on him and everything he fought for?
Stormblood is an intriguing and impressive new science fiction novel that takes the reader on an action-packed thrill ride. This is the debut novel from Australian author Jeremy Szal, which also serves as the first book in his The Common series of books. I have been looking forward to this science fiction release for a while as I thought it sounded like a rather interesting novel, and I was really glad when I received a copy. I ended up having a fantastic time reading this amazing and clever novel, and it is one of the best debut books I have so far read this year.
At the centre of this novel lies a captivating and exciting narrative that follows the adventures of the book’s primary protagonist, Vakov Fukasawa, as he tries to uncover who is trying to kill all his fellow former soldiers. This results in a fast-paced military thriller storyline filled with all manner of action and adventure as Vakov jumps from one lead to the next in order to get to the bottom of the plot he is investigating. This story goes in some dramatic directions, and I had fun unravelling the complex conspiracy storyline that emerged. The combat comes very hot and heavy throughout the entirety of the story, with some unique science fiction elements added in to really make them pop. Readers should also be prepared for some rather dark sequences, such as a rather claustrophobic torture scene. Szal also spends a lot of time building up and exploring his protagonist, Vakov, showing him to be a complex character who is haunted by his past and strongly concerned for the people he is close to. Several chapters within this book are dedicated to showing the events that formed him, including his traumatic childhood and his military service. There is also a compelling focus on the strained relationship between Vakov and his brother, which becomes a major part of the plot as the two eventually face off as adversaries in some fantastic dramatic scenes. I became really engrossed with this elaborate storyline and I ended up reading the entire book rather quickly, despite its somewhat substantial length. An overall outstanding story, I cannot wait to see what happens in the next books in the series, but I have a feeling I am really going to enjoy them.
One of the key highlights of Stormblood is the outstanding new science fiction universe that Szal has come up with as a setting for the story. Szal clearly has considerable imagination, as he produces a vast and exhilarating science fiction location populated with a multitude of different people and alien races. The majority of the story is set within the gigantic space city of Compass, an amazing expanse of different places, climates and structures, all laid out in vertical levels. This was a really cool place to explore, and this is clearly the tip of the iceberg as Szal hints at a number of other intriguing locations and planets throughout the book, and I can easily see future entries in the series expanding out to a bunch of other locations. I was also extremely impressed with all the different technology, biological enhancements, spaceships, and alien races that appeared throughout the novel. There are a number of new and fantastic science fiction ideas here, and I really enjoyed the way that Szal worked all of these technologies and aliens into the book’s plot, especially as most of them provide some amazing enhancements to the story. A number of the book’s intense sequences really stand out due to the technology that the author comes up with, such as weird weapons, advanced combat suits, all manner of enhanced opponents, and a particularly freaky security room that is keyed to a person’s biology (you do not want to know what happens when the owner dies). All these proved to be a lot of fun, and Szal has an awesome and imaginative vision of the future.
Out of all the cool science fiction elements in this book, I really have to highlight stormtech, the alien DNA that is injected into humans to give them enhanced abilities. Stormtech is a key part of Stormblood as a plot device and because of the impacts that it has on the book’s point-of-view character. Quite a lot of the story is dedicated to examining the transformative qualities of stormtech and the effects that it has had on former Reapers like Vakov. In particular, the alien DNA has left him addicted to his own adrenaline, and it is constantly driving him to perform risky or aggressive acts so that he can get the accompanying adrenaline high. This proved to be a fascinating part of Stormblood’s story, as the author spends a lot of time examining how stormtech impacts his protagonist’s mind and his constant struggle to control it. Several of the flashback scenes are particularly well utilised here, as they show Vakov and his fireteam’s initial experiences with stormtech during the war and the terrible effects it had on them the more action they saw. The version of Vakov who was introduced at the start of the main story is one who has managed to gain command over his addiction, although he is constantly struggling to maintain that control, especially as the events of plot compel him into more and more dangerous situations and new experiences with experimental stormtech, resulting in some dramatic consequences. This was an extremely captivating aspect of the Stormblood’s narrative, and Szal does an outstanding job examining the impacts of addiction on the protagonist and then using it to add additional compelling layers to his main character.
Stormblood is an excellent and exciting science fiction novel from talented new Australian author Jeremy Szal. Szal’s creativity and ability to tell a complex and thrilling story really shines through in his debut book, and I had an outstanding time enjoying this epic read. I fully intend to grab the second book in this series when it comes out and I have a feeling that Szal is going to have a major impact on the science fiction genre in the next few years.