In Jeremy Szal’s barnstorming debut Stormblood, Harmony won the war against Harvest, but to do so it had to use super soldiers created through alien organisms injected irreversibly into human bodies. Those men and women are capable of the best and the worst, depending on if they can control the alien stormtech in their systems as it bays for blood and action. These men and women are the ultimate flesh-and-bone weapons, built for winning wars through unending grit and sheer bloody-mindedness.
Only, the war ended. Harmony had an army of battle-scarred super soldiers who were no longer needed to kill but had to integrate back into a normal civilisation once more, and a black market just waiting to get their hands on an almost irreversibly addictive drug.
Our protagonist Vak survived the war with Harmony and has alien tech all through his body—supercharging him and at the same time making him sometimes more a beast slaved to alien nature than man. Our story starts with Vak and his mate stealing from a local crime boss to help pay for his mate stay on Compass (the asteroid they call home) while in the back ground we start to hear about addiction to stormtech rising and addicts going mental on it.
Then the overdoses start happening not just to the addicts, but the soldiers who came back from the war and thought their stormtech under control—men and women our protagonist Vak went through hell with. People who should have been able to survive the urges. People Harmony were supposed to be helping manage to be a part of society, despite the stormtech and their mental war wounds.
Now, I’ll admit two things: Firstly, masses of soldiers being sent back into society after a big war and struggling to integrate is one of my favourite background stories to read–it works in fantasy just as well as science fiction, and always sets you up for a hard-bitten explosive story. So almost immediately I knew there was a good chance I was going to enjoy the foundation for this story as much as, say, Priest of Bones.
Secondly, this book is like a mixture of Altered Carbon and something I’ve not really read before, or even thought I wanted to read before, body horror (a lighter, non-sexual version of it, from the descriptions I can find online). And it bloody-well works. It creates a visceral experience that at times had me gritting my teeth and wincing–especially through a certain torture scene–and at other times sweating the action right alongside our hero.
With a solid foundational backstory, a heart-pumping opening, and a new genre splice I’d not read before, all Szal had to do was not take his foot off the accelerator from cover to cover to deliver an awesome reading experience. He doesn’t just do that, he mashes the pedal to the floor in a book that reads like an action movie but at the same time delivers such heart-wrenching and heart-warming relationships that enable him to deliver gut punches that hit home when it matters.
And this is a point I’d like to labour on a little. Vak’s relationships with Grimm and Katherine and his brother Artyom in the current timeline, and with his fireteam during the timeline that gives you a look at what the war with Harmony was like, are phenomenally written. By the end of it I was so engaged in the characters that Szal had my emotions on puppet strings. For such a young author to write such engaging characters speaks of more life experience than he could surely have. I can’t say enough good stuff about how engaging Szal’s relationships in Stormblood are.
Stormblood is a magnificent and explosive adrenaline-fest that ends with an absolute gut-punch that ties all the threads back into one tear-inducing moment. Szal’s debut is an absolute must read for fans of gritty, action-packed, detective / military SF. Whatever book two is, I’m in.
Buy Stormblood by Jeremy Szal