Top critical review
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on 19 March 2013
For the first half to two thirds of this book I was thinking it was the best of Gemmell's work I have read to date. It has a truly epic quality to it, continuing a while after the previous book in his 'Rigante' series, Ravenheart, and reintroducing many of the surviving characters from that story. For once with Gemmell, I'd say reading the previous novel is essential to getting the most from this one. Kaelin Ring and Gaise Macon, whose soul names are the Ravenheart and Stormrider of the titles, have lives which have seemingly been destined to clash sooner or later. When an ancient magical artifact is unearthed by an inherently evil man, and used for his purposes, civil war looms, inexorably drawing the Varlish Gaise and the Rigante Kaelin together.
Much of the first half of the book concentrates on relationships and conflicts, and this is where the book is at its best. Gemmell was a master of characterisation, and had a marvellously subtle way of filling in backstory without resorting to page after page of exposition. He does that here with aplomb, and also introduces some new characters, such as the Cochland brothers, who bring a welcome bit of levity to proceedings.
However, in the latter stages of the book (and this is a long book by Gemmell's standards, at 600 pages), as the war commences, he seems to lose his way a little. There is very little in the way of the emotional punch that he usually weaved throughout his stories, and certainly nothing to match the ending of the previous book. In fact, I'm not sure I liked the ending of Stormrider, as it seems to rely on a somewhat deus ex machina conclusion which doesn't sit well with the rest of the tale, and certainly doesn't reflect the path the previous three books have taken to get here. Yes, fate has always been at the heart of them, but this ending seemed to me to be just a little bit too convenient, despite the tagged on epilogue. Even the last line of the novel is nowhere near his usual quality. Whereas his books usually leave me with a lump in my throat, or my jaw on the floor, this one did neither.
Perhaps this was down to a desire to bring a conclusion to the series within this fourth book, and there was a need to tie up all loose ends (bar one, which left me fairly annoyed). Yet, despite my misgivings about the ending, it is still an immensely enjoyable read, streets ahead of most other fantasy. It's just that the three previous books in the series are so good, this one feel a bit of a let down. Shame!