Vakov is a wonderfully depicted multi-layered character. He is a witty and charming individual who is unafraid to embrace his emotions. The war against the savage Harvesters may have ended but he still fights a daily battle against stormtech addiction. I found his story very moving. Accompanying Vakov on his difficult journey to overcoming PTSD and addiction, stopping the Reaper murders and possibly saving his brother is a handful of supporting characters. The two closest to him are the good-natured Grim, a hacker with a penchant for mischief and the unrelenting Katherine Kowalski, a Harmony operative and kindred-spirit. Both are well developed characters that not only serve to support Vakov but have stories of their own which are central to the plot in many ways. There are a handful more, the standout being Juvens, an alien Space Marshall with charming bluntness, serious pilot skills and horns. All in all, Stormblood boasts a great cast of characters.
One of the main other things I loved about this book is the setting. Compass is a towering space station of multiple cities sitting on top of each other in a hollowed-out asteroid. Each floor is thematic in nature, from the slum-built Changhao at the base of the asteroid and the derelict Warren home to stormtech dealers, to the labyrinth Upper Market and affluent paradise of Cloudstern at the top. Compass acts as a capital of sorts for the Common, a galactic commonwealth of alien races trying to live coexistent lives. The space station's denizens may not be as diverse as its multi-tiered levels, with only a handful getting page time, but this works well as it keeps the narrative tight. I have no doubt that we will get to learn more about these races and others in subsequent books. Also, I must mention the really cool yet sometimes disturbing technology that can be found throughout the novel. There is of course the stormtech and the various mutations it can cause to those it infects. There are also suits of armor that attach themselves to the wearer's skin, guns that 3D-print bullets as they fire and military-grade defence systems that create rooms from the DNA and biometrics of their owners. Like I said, cool and disturbing.
I also want to acknowledge the perfectly balanced nature of the plot, shifting naturally between detective thriller and military sci-fi fantasy. The former creates an atmosphere of suspense as Vakov begins to unravel the mystery of the Reaper murders while the latter delivers some of the coolest, blood-pumping tense firefights I have read in a sci-fi novel (and I have read a lot of Warhammer). I particularly enjoyed Vakov's flashbacks to the Harvester War which serves as the basis for some of the novel's most intense action, explores the sense of camaraderie that is so fundamental to Vakov's character and which shows the horrifying process of addiction that the stormtech forces upon its host.
I read this in two sittings with eight cups of tea, half of which had gone cold by the time I took a sip, so engrossed was I in Vakov's story and the world Szal has created. Stormblood is a fantastic debut. I cannot wait to see what comes next. Jeremy Szal, you have yourself a fan.
5 / 5