This is Ben’s best book yet. Plain and simple.
Task is a 400-year-old golem; a ‘wind cut’ stone war machine who has served countless masters and fought their wars. Yet Task was always something more. His very first word, spoken just after his creation, is ‘why?’ This baffles Task’s creator:
“Fourteen golems, and you’re the first to ask ‘why’.”
And this aptly draws Task character.
Yes, he is a war machine, yes he can be brutal, but this golem has a brain inside that head and a better heart than most in his chest. Though beaten down by the magic that binds him to his masters, and very nearly numb to the world after centuries of fighting, when Task is thrown into the middle of the Hartlund civil war he begins to question again: why?
Luckily for Task he finds comfort in Lesky. She’s a little girl with a whoppingly large foul mouth and plenty of wit besides. Right from the get go you understand what she is all about and her stubborn attempts to befriend Task account for some of the most heart touching parts of this story. Throw in the half-drunken, shell of a legend that is Alabast, a man living in his own shadow, and you’ve got quite the solid trio of POV characters. This was just as well, for the first half of the novel is a slow simmering build towards the explosive end third. It might be a touch slow for some but I felt the characters were interesting and engaging enough on their own to draw me in. There’s a lot to like in this regard.
I said this is Galley’s best book and this carries into the writing as well. Galley has a unique style which some might find rich but I found the prose to be his most refined yet while still maintaining that distinctiveness.
As a standalone story I wonder whether so much world building was required. It’s not overbearing but I wonder if we needed some of those foreign nations and tidbits of history added to the mix. More attention to the people of Hartlund fighting this civil war might have served better, but this is more a pondering thought than a critique. While we get a lot more information on Hartlund later on, it comes close to the end and being spread throughout the story might have helped build the intrigue about certain events which kick started the war.
There is magic in this world (obviously, there is a nine-foot talking golem running around) but it’s low key. Many will enjoy this stripped back, grittier fantasy but those who like a sprinkle of magic will find some as the book progresses. But make no mistake, this is closer to grimdark than epic or heroic fantasy. The civil war (which I like to imagine is modelled off of the English Civil War) is absolutely brutal. There is no glory in it. There are no heroes basking in it. There is only death, incompetent leadership, death, hard living, oh, and death. BUT there is laughter too. Grim laughter but the dark humour is a welcome relief throughout the novel.
If it isn’t clear already, I think the Heart of Stone is more than worth your time and money. If this is your first-time hearing about Ben Galley, then what better book to start on than a standalone story about a wind-cut golem with a tender heart.