The biggest compliment I can throw at McKinnon is this – reading Symphony reminded me of the first time I picked up Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon; the action starts early on and it hardly ever lets up. McKinnon throws us readers deep into a world that feels fully formed though unknown and he’s not afraid to let us sink or swim on our merit. He’s provided the tools to dig deep into a fictional world that runs on ignogen, a material that’s as unstable as enriched uranium; its myriad applications make the dangers of its extraction and use worthwhile, however.
I haven’t read such an interesting twist on steampunk since Senlin Ascends (though no two stories could be less alike). Symphony of the Wind is a story of rebellion, of corruption and the excesses of power and religious zeal but more importantly – of men and women struggling in the dark, attempting to make it out into the light. Thank all things dark and evil that it’s 660 pages, else I don’t know how the author would’ve tackled as much as he did as well as he has.
McKinnon writes well. I tell you, he does! His prose is elegant and visual; reading some of the action scenes in the latter half of Symphony was like getting shot after shot of adrenaline right into my spinal cord. One high stakes chase scene in particular, as well as a secondary villain by the name of Pierro, made for a spectacular sequence that had me cheering for heroes Serena and Gallows throughout. And Pierro…rarely have I disliked a large chap as much as this one. I just wish someone smacked his big stupid face with a brick!
Speaking of Pierro, Symphony’s villains are a memorable lot, and one that I loved to hate every step of the way. Again, I’ll draw a parallel with Malazan; none of these bad people are evil for evil’s sake. It’s either fate or purpose or...okay, there’s a pair of villains that are just led my vainglorious personal ambition and greed for power, as well as an absolute psychopath that’ll give any Resident Evil 2 player a flashback to Mr X, but—BUT—about half the villains of the novel truly believe that what they’re doing is for the best. That’s the stuff of truly memorable fantasy villains.
What didn’t mush quite well enough for?
Gallows, one of our two main PoV characters, was somewhat polarizing. At times, I really liked him but at others, he seemed overwhelmingly judgemental of the behaviour of other characters, or their skills, when he was guilty of similar behaviour or worse. There’s an argument to be made that this makes him more realistic but there was a little something that bugged me about the sudden switch from badass action hero to judgy lad.
Several of the characters and their PoVs played a small enough part that they didn’t leave an impression. It was almost as if their existence were a reason for major protagonists and antagonists to have further connections to one another, reasons to push them further into conflict. I can’t help but feel that McKinnon is compelled to show where every thread of the story eventually goes in detail; sometimes, less is more.
One more thing worth mentioning is, there was something off with the speech of a couple of the characters. Too many ‘reckon’-ings perhaps, a few too many interesting characters given cliched military jargon and other choices in vernacular that were used without nearly enough measure.
From this point onwards, I can only see Steven McKinnon improving. He’s set up a world I’m excited to read more about, characters I want to follow, and though I dislike a few things, these don’t take away from the enormous amount of enjoyment and thrills I got in my time with Symphony of the Wind.
My score for Symphony of the Wind is an 8 out of 10 for SPFBO 4, and 4/5 stars on Goodreads! I can heartily recommend this to:
- Anyone who loves well thought-out fantasy with wonderous world-building;
- Dark stories that’ll get darker;
- How-to guides to nearly successful dictatorships;
- Cool leads, cooler antagonists;
- I’m serious, you’ll just want to punch, claw at and stab all the villains! They’re just so sleazy and nasty, all of them!
- So much excellent action! Gunpowder, treason and plot! Plots. Multiple plots.
- And more! Prob’ly!