Lethal heatwaves — called simply “The Heat” by the natives — have destroyed Rowen’s life. First they took his parents, and then his voice, and now his people as they choose to sacrifice him in order to appease the mysterious Storm Lords and end nature’s attack on his village. They have no choice. Dozens of people are dying, the sick, the infirm, and the old, and there is no sign of relief. Rowen’s death may be their only hope, both of ridding themselves of a water stealer, and in banishing the killer heat.
While Rowen lays, insensate with heat stroke, dehydration, and exposure he has a vision, a vision of an otherworldly figure floating down from the heavens, bringing with him cooling breezes and rain. “Come with me,” the man says, promising him life and freedom and power. The power of a Storm Lord.
Rowen is one of those special few with the innate power to affect the weather, to call storms and turn the tide of the killer heat storms. Humans are relegated to a safe zone — much of the planet lost to endless deserts — and rely upon the mysterious, but all-too-human Storm Lords for their existence. Rowen wants nothing more than to save his people from dying, as well as himself, and gratefully accepts Kristoff’s offer.
He will become a Lord of the Storms. He will learn to control the weather and save his people from the slow death of thirst and heat and starvation. But first he has to learn how to use his power, how to read and write, and how to trust. A difficult task as he begins to fall for his mentor, Kristoff.
It’s hard to write a book with no antagonist. It makes the plot and the characters work twice as hard in an attempt to hold the reader’s interest. I’m sad to say this book didn’t quite manage it.
Rowen is mute. In an effort to join his parents, he chose to eat pit seed after pit seed, waiting for death. Instead, his voice was taken from him… and he lived. When Kristoff first rescues him, he takes Rowen’s silence as shyness and reticence, but when he learns that Rowen is mute, he makes it clear that he’s going to teach Rowen how to read and write so that he can communicate, an idea that brings joy to Rowen.
Because Rowen can’t speak, we’re left entirely in his head for the first third of the book. His frustrations, his labored efforts to make himself known, and his absolute happiness when he’s able to write his first few words are poignant. He’s also a teenager, which excuses much of his thoughts and inner monologue being selfish, self-centered, and more than a little angsty.
Kristoff is only a little older and was thrust into the role of mentor — a tradition when one Storm Lord finds a new talent — a role he is quite unsuited for. He barely knows how to talk to Rowen, let alone how to teach him, but he is one of the few on the island who has faith in Rowen’s abilities and confidence that Rowen will be a strong, powerful Storm Lord.
There’s an attempt to play up the misunderstandings of a couple — the cute and stupid trope — but I didn’t find either of them cute enough to really pull it off. I found them both just a tiny bit bland, to be honest. There’s an attempt at some conflict when another young man, Volkes, is brought into the mix. Like Rowen and Kristoff, he’s interested in men, and his relationship with Rowen is cliched and lacking teeth.
He’s not aggressive enough to be a bully or dealt with enough to be a foil for Rowen as an up-and-coming Storm Lord. He’s powerful, dominant, and insecure, all of which are believable, but many of his actions seem so forced. He’s the bad boy, all flash and arrogance, who isn’t as good as the main character and so gets all angry and makes “grrr” faces and shakes his hand angrily.
All three of these characters were, I think, 80% fleshed out. Because there was no antagonist, no villain in the story except a heat wave, the characters needed to be so much stronger than they were in this book. But, please remember, this is all only my opinion. They aren’t bad characters in essence, they just weren’t… people enough for me.
The plot involves Rowen trying to learn to be a Storm Lord and Kristoff trying to be a teacher. That’s the majority of the book; it’s worked in other stories, students going away to school and learning how to handle their magic, but for that sort of story the school needs to be interesting, the magic needs to be interesting.
The world of the Storm Lords is vague beyond belief. Is is a dystopian story showing us the dangers of global-warming with a bit of magic for flavor? Is this a fantasy novel? Are they colonists on another planet? Who knows? They use words like atmosphere and ozone, encyclopedias and couches, all of which are, more or less, modern words. There’s not much mention of clothing style, names range from Sharon and Kristoff to Volkes, which makes me think this isn’t a fantasy novel. Not that Sharon couldn’t be a fantasy name if it wanted to be.
I had no sense of place or time, no sense of culture. No sense of the world they lived in at all. Even the magic system felt vague and hand-wavy. They used tendrils of air to fly, they moved cold weather systems in order to disrupt hot weather systems, and… that was it. Some specialized in lightning, or wind, or ocean currents, or any other number of specific forms of atmospheric phenomenon. It didn’t work for me; it was as if the author had an idea, but hadn’t fully communicated it to me.
Much of this book was a swing and a miss for me. I see where the book was going, I can get an idea of what it was supposed to be and the character avatars Rowen, Kristoff, and even Sharon and Volkes were supposed to fulfill, but it just didn’t come together. The writing was okay, the plot dragged at time and the ending just didn’t work for me.
Rowen’s special gift was fine, and I appreciated the novelty of the idea of the magic system… but the final scene at the end felt like it belonged in a different book. It didn’t match the tone or the way Rowen’s story was set up. This is a near thing, for me. It’s not a bad book, it’s more an adequate book with a good idea hidden inside it.
A review copy of this book was provided by DSP Publications.