Empire of Storms #1: Hope and Red by Jon Skovrun (Orbit)

In a fracturing empire spread across savage seas, two young people from different cultures find common purpose. A nameless girl is the lone survivor when her village is massacred by biomancers, mystical servants of the emperor. Named after her lost village, Bleak Hope is secretly trained by a master Vinchen warrior as an instrument of vengeance. A boy becomes an orphan on the squalid streets of New Laven and is adopted by one of the most notorious women of the criminal underworld, given the name Red, and trained as a thief and con artist. When a ganglord named Deadface Drem strikes a bargain with the biomancers to consolidate and rule all the slums of New Laven, the worlds of Hope and Red come crashing together, and their unlikely alliance takes them further than either could have dreamed possible.

Earning comparisons to the likes of Brent Weeks’ The Night Angel trilogy and not just because it comes from the same publisher, Hope and Red is a novel that I’ve had my eye on for a while because even though I’m unfamiliar with Jon Skovrun’s novels the plot and summary was enough to draw my attention, and the eye-catching cover sealed the deal when I spotted this book at Waterstones a few weeks ago.

You can see why there have been comparisons made to The Night Angel Trilogy. Hope and Red also will no doubt appeal to fans of Kill Bill, Douglas Hulick’s Among Thieves and Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen’s Bastard Trilogy as well, with a great rich blend of martial arts, swashbuckling and grand adventure. The book focuses on two protagonists, a young woman named Bleak Hope, after her lost village, and Red, a thief/con artist. Both are given names that aren’t theirs. Both will have their world collide over the course of the novel, and it’s interesting to watch their approach as Skovron handles the pacing pretty well, throwing us into the world.  It’s an engaging read that never slows down, spending enough time between the two characters to flesh them out enough so that the readers will look forward to spending more time with them going forward.

It was actually a surprise to see that these two characters don’t actually meet on page until about the midway section of the book, by which point Hope and Red kicks into overdrive. It takes time to explore both of their origins and really puts them first over the storyline, making this a character driven read helped by its rich setting in a diverse, amazing world full of rich ideas that really come flowing to life on the page. The societies that Hope and Red are in well created, with Red having to live in an urbanized area that is home to a constant divide between the upper and lower classes whilst Hope lives initially in the mysterious Vinchen Order, as well as at sea. Both characters have never fully quite found themselves at home in their respective worlds, with Red not quite fitting into the two classes of upper and lower.

The pacing mostly holds itself together well until the final act, but that’s only a minor problem that I had with this book because on the whole it’s a pretty great read that makes the most of its characters and setting, and kept me reading throughout and will have me coming back for the sequel.

VERDICT: 7.9/10

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