Book review: Stormblood by Jeremy Szal

Has it really been that long since I posted a blog review? It seems so. Funny how lockdown means you have more time to do the things you like, but then end up doing less of them. Lately, I’ve been trying to change that by reading more. And – wouldn’t you know it? – some of what I’ve read has been very good! 

Today’s review: Stormblood by Jeremy Szal. Here’s the blurb:

“Vakov Fukasawa used to be a Reaper: a bio-enhanced soldier fighting for the Harmony, against a brutal invading empire. He’s still fighting now, on a different battlefield: taking on stormtech. To make him a perfect soldier, Harmony injected him with the DNA of an extinct alien race, altering his body chemistry and leaving him permanently addicted to adrenaline and aggression. But although they meant to create soldiers, at the same time Harmony created a new drug market that has millions hopelessly addicted to their own body chemistry.

“Vakov may have walked away from Harmony, but they still know where to find him, and his former Reaper colleagues are being murdered by someone, or something – and Vakov is appalled to learn his estranged brother is involved. Suddenly it’s an investigation he can’t turn down . . . but the closer he comes to the truth, the more addicted to stormtech he becomes.

“And it’s possible the war isn’t over, after all . . .”

Stormblood is Szal’s debut novel, and there’s a lot to enjoy about both the characters and the story. As for Fukasawa, what’s not to like about a retired super-soldier? He’s our narrator, and straight off the bat he’s both an interesting and likeable character. The supporting cast are all fleshed out and equally engaging. My favourite was Grim; Fukasawa’s “tech-support” (he’s a bit more than that, but you get the message). There are others along the way, though, and Compass (the equivalent of Valerian’s Alpha in Szal’s universe) is a rich setting replete with many alien races and a constant undertone of threat. 

Despite the fact that the novel deals with some very dark topics (drug use and abuse, and familial loss, to name but two), its frenetic pace and tight prose somehow manages to keep things light and always moving. It’s hard to pin down Szal’s writing style: it feels a bit like a cross between Richard K Morgan and Gavin Smith. The world building is a bit Mass Effect, perhaps a little Blade Runner at times. If you enjoy any of those authors, books or franchises, then I think you’ll also enjoy Stormblood a lot. Highly recommended.