The Heart of Stone


Worth reading 😎

Readers who prefer their adventures at a spirited pace may find Ben Galley’s The Heart of Stone a trying read, but those who stick with it will discover its battle-hardened protagonist has surprising emotional depth.

The Heart of Stone contains a playlist of tracks that inspired author Ben Galley during his writing. Seeing such guttural rock bands as Memphis May Fire, Killswitch Engage, and Rage Against the Machine on the list, I prepared myself for a grimdark fantasy brimming with percussional destruction and death-growl violence. And while both are more than present, I was surprised at the compassion that pervaded the novel’s quitter moments. (See City and Colour, also featured on the playlist.)

Task is a Wind-Cut Golem recently traded to General Huff Dartridge. Unstoppable on the battlefield, Task quickly ends the stalemate of a decade-long civil war despite having grown weary of his blood-soaked existence. As the Truehards advance across the line, the ancient golem finds solace in the most unlikely of places, a stable girl named Lesky. Meanwhile, the Fading calls in its own champion to confront their deadly new enemy, Albast the Dawn Knight. Galley deftly pairs the struggles of war against the inner battles of the men and monsters that populate his world. Task’s nature makes him incapable of connecting with people — seeing them as greedy, immoral “skinbags” — yet this emotional distance grants him a keen moral sense, an inhuman humanism untethered from pride and nationalism.

Albast, in turn, is a man who has indulged too much in humanity and proves a delightful foil for Task. After years of squandering his fame as the last dragon slayer on wine and women, this libertine must find a purpose if he is to confront the golem. Journeying with these two as they discover causes worth fighting for is where the novel truly shines.

Other characters don’t fare as well — at least initially. Lesky is the precocious youth who sees Task’s humanity where others fail to. Huff is the prideful leader more concerned with fame and fortune than his countrymen. And Tespin feels like he was outsourced from his regular gig as an ‘80s movie bully (complete with comical comeuppance).

These characters do grow to be more dynamic in time, but it can be slow going waiting for them to break free of their molds.

The story also takes its time. Despite several thrashing battle scenes, the first third of the novel drags. Because Task sees each engagement as just another in his long, sordid career and tears through his enemies like he’s activated God Mode, there are few stakes to care about and little to dread despite the horrors on display.

Whether you enjoy Galley’s worldbuilding will depend heavily on preference. Galley deliver’s information piecemeal, letting the characters, not the author, navigate the reader through Hartlund. A notable example is the magic system, an enigmatic force that lacks the ridge structures of, say, a Brandon Sanderson novel. While the world’s magical workings are explained, you only learn what the characters know and many mysteries remain by the end. Similar choices throughout make the world feel expansive and authentic.

If you’re the kind of reader who packs her bags to live in abroad, choosing to learn the language through cultural immersion, then you’ll be at home with Galley’s style. If, on the other hand, you prefer a curated tour of other countries — complete with a docent to provide the history of every landmark — then The Heart of Stone may not be the book for you. I am happy I packed my bags.

Reviewed by

Kevin R. Dickinson has been an independent writing consultant since 2011. During that time, he's worked as an educator, editor, journalist, and researcher, and written on subjects ranging from religion to Dr. Seuss, film history to Mars' surplus of iron oxide.

Chapter 1

About the author

Ben Galley is a bestselling fantasy author hailing from Victoria, Canada. Since publishing his debut The Written in 2010, Ben has released a range of award-winning fantasy novels, including the weird western Bloodrush and the epic standalone The Heart of Stone, and the new Chasing Graves Trilogy. view profile

Published on March 30, 2017

Published by Ben Galley

30000 words

Genre: Fantasy

Reviewed by