She Who Rides the Storm by Caitlin Sangster
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Long ago, shapeshifting monsters ruled the Commonwealth using blasphemous magic that fed on the souls of their subjects. Now, hundreds of years later, a new tomb has been uncovered, and despite the legends that disturbing a shapeshifter’s final resting place will wake them once again, the Warlord is determined to dig it up.
But it isn’t just the Warlord who means to brave the traps and pitfalls guarding the crypt.
A healer obsessed with tracking down the man who murdered her twin brother.
A runaway member of the Warlord’s Devoted order, haunted by his sister’s ghost.
A snotty archaeologist bent on finding the cure to his magical wasting disease.
A girl desperate to escape the cloistered life she didn’t choose.
All four are out to steal the same cursed sword rumored to be at the very bottom of the tomb. But of course, some treasures should never see the light of day, and some secrets are best left buried…
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Outside the city of Chaol, an archaeological dig of untold importance has begun.
A healer, a soldier, an archaeologist, a seer. By all means, they should be at odds with one another. After all, they want the same cursed sword from the tomb of a shapeshifter king of old. And if that means waking up a soul-stealing terror from centuries ago, so be it. If it means clashing with the Warlord who rules the region and could seal their fates, it’s worth the risk.
But the tombs’ traps and the Warlord’s wrath aren’t the only risks involved. Everyone involved has their own secrets threatening to come to light. Old enemies hunt them, buried pasts haunt them, and over it all, a god watches without intervening, her guidance slim but her presence unmissable.
One way or another, they’ll all make their way into the shapeshifter’s tomb. What they find there, though, could change their world for good.
On the surface, She Who Rides the Storm has a fascinating concept.
The summary, in truth, had me absolutely enamored. Not only do I love heist stories, I love heist stories with competing characters and only one prize to be had. And more than that, I love an unusual cast. I mean, when’s the last time you read a fantasy book that featured an archaeologist as a main character? That’s certainly not at all common, so I was more than ready to give it a try, even before capping it off with shapeshifter magic and whatnot.
And it delivered, in some senses! The archaeology part I’m especially soft on, especially with a mix of preservation versus traps. It really has an adventurous thrill to it while also exploring how fantasy archaeology could even work, and I loved that angle. Maybe it’s a little over-specific, a little niche, but let me have my fun.
She Who Rides the Storm also gave me Anwei, a healer who just wants revenge for the death of her twin brother. And being the soft-hearted oldest sibling that I am, I latched onto her, craved her success, worried for her safety. Plus, I love healer characters who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and get dirty. Gentle, soft, timid healers are out, and clever, sharp healers are in. I don’t make the rules, folks, I just share them.
However, this book suffers from an unbearable slowness.
Keep in mind I’m a fast reader. Nevertheless, She Who Rides the Storm took me nearly seven hours to finish reading. In that time, there was a painful amount of fresh terminology dropped with very delayed explanation (I still don’t know why soldiers under the Warlord are called Roosters if they don’t possess magic), as well as some jagged POV swapping. I was bounced around through so much without time to really grasp what was going on, and it took time to find my footing, which can be frustrating when the plot is already apparently underway.
Then again, I say “apparently” because the plot did take ages. In setting up four different POVs, She Who Rides the Storm manages to drag the overall plot out. More than once, I felt like some scenes could have been condensed or combined or omitted or something without sacrificing too much value, and instead of asking myself “ooh, what happens next?” I asked more “when will this part be over and we get to something interesting?”
And it certainly didn’t help that so much of the plot ultimately hinges on “I can’t tell you, and I can’t tell you why I can’t tell you.” That’s far and away one of my least favorite excuses for characters to keep secrets, and it also manage to underwhelm some of the late reveals. If I’d know a little more, seen hints of a little more, maybe those reveals would have punched harder, been more satisfying.
Really, though, I’m just confused as to why I spent so long on this book. If I was the kind of person who DNFs books, I think this would have been a DNF for sure.
This is a book for readers with patience.
Since She Who Rides the Storm ends in a way that promises at least one more book, it’s a long ride for only partial payoff. If you have the patience to sift through it all, absorb it all, then wait for another title, kudos to you! You might really like this one!
For me, though, it was a swing and a miss. A perfect example of great concept, iffy execution. I don’t see myself coming back for the second book even though I do want to know some of the character resolutions, because reading this book feels, ultimately, like a waste of my time. There are better books I could have been reading in the seven hours I was reading this, and that’s a bummer.
CW: violence, loss of a loved one, gore, sexual assault, graphic injury, child death, implied suicide