Brian Libby has been patient while waiting for this review, so I’m glad to be able to finally provide it. 🙂 He contacted me via email a couple of months ago and was kind enough to send me a copy of what proved to be a great fantasy.
Storm Approaching follows the trials and fortunes of Andiriel, an orphan living in one of the many houses for orphans in the New Empire. Andiriel longs for a life bigger than what she knows, and as the book progresses and she finds her path, she also finds out more about the world than she ever bargained for.
Now, one of the first things that I kept an eye out for while reading this book was the normal tropes of fantasy – after all, Brian states at the back of the book:
“This book is warranted to be free of ingredients known to harm originality in contemporary speculative fiction. It has no magical swords, rings, orbs, wands, torques, gems, or other trinkets. Here are no elves, dwarfs, vampires, zombies, golems, imps or goblins. No orphans or mislaid children are the rightful heirs of kings. Nobody discovers hidden Wizardly powers, Dead people stay that way. And there is not one prophecy in sight.”
I can hear you asking, “Well then, what’s there to read about?” For one thing, it’s still a fantasy novel, and a damn good one, for all that it doesn’t have what we are used to when reading fantasy novels.
You see, what Brian does so well is the same kinds of things that authors like GRRM and Robert Jordan do so well: I’m talking about World Building, attention to detail and excellent character development.
The world that Brian creates, being the New Empire, is filled with real history and an interesting culture. As you read, Brian skillfully gives you all the information you need to think of the New Empire -and the towns and cities you will go to- as a place that makes sense, that seems as real and comfortable as the place you’ve grown up in or known your whole life. Brian also achieves the all important Don’t-Deluge-the-Reader-With-Information aspect of making Fantasy good.
Character-wise, Andiriel is, of course, given the most attention, but Brian lets characters from all walks of life have their time in the book and each character is true to themselves; there’s no noble speaking or like a low-born and no low-born speaking of acting like a noble (though that would, probably, be more likely). Everyone has a presence, a solidness, which needs to be there when dealing with as large a cast of characters as grace Storm Approaching’s pages. Some of the stand-out characters for me, other than Andiriel herself, were some of the mercenaries, the Emperor and members of his council, and a cute little fox. 🙂
As good as the book is, it does take a couple of chapters to build up, but looking back, I do see this as a strength. You see, the master himself, JRR Tolkien, took it slow and steady, and this is a path that Brian walks well. There’s no hurrying this book, though do allow yourself some time to get into Brian’s rhythm – it’s worth it. 🙂
Brian also has a good handle on the military aspects of the novel – while characters are learning about formations, tactics, weapons and the like, you are, too, and before you know it, you might find yourself thinking up strategies of your own to use in whatever strategy game you play. 🙂 Case in point, I like Warhammer: Dawn of War and Star Craft, so you can imagine the fun I had. 🙂
Another aspect that Brian excels at is the political aspect of the his world, and this is an important part of any fantasy – a part that needs to be spot on all the time so that it doesn’t come across as dumb or contrived. It’s another aspect of the novel that Brian put a lot of thought into. 🙂
There’s enough intrigue, character development, and mystery in this novel to keep the discerning fantasy-lover satisfied, but if there’s one thing I missed, it’s battles. If you’re looking for two or three big battles, you wont find them in this book, but what does occur in the book is absolutely central to Andiriel, so keep that in mind if you start feeling let down. 🙂
Taking everything into account, Storm Approaching is an incredibly self-assured novel, and an excellent example of what can be still be done in fantasy without using anything that is expected from the genre. Let’s hope that Brian’s work crosses the desk of editor in a big publisher, because Storm Approaching deserves to be on shelves everywhere. 🙂
I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in the series!
8 / 10