The Heart of Stone
People don’t like the reflection of what I am to them. I may be different, all stone and dust instead of skin and blood. But they still see themselves. Copied. Faked in stone.
In a fantasy world filled with conflict, the human race looked to machinery to fight their wars. With wood, flesh, and stone, they built fearsome creatures called Golems. These were powerful beings that were seemingly fearless, and, better still, they could be sold to the highest bidder. Yet when Task, a Wind-Cut Golem forged from stone, was built, he managed to surprise his creator; out of all the Golems that had ever been built, he was the first to ever ask the simple question, “why?”.
Hundreds of years after he was created, Task has seen more wars than any human ever could. He has learnt to become detached from his emotions, numbing his mind so that he can follow his masters’ orders, despite the families, homes, and people that he must rip apart in the process. Golems have almost become a thing of the past, the majority of them having been killed off hundreds of years ago, but Task remains, and now, as he serves the general of Hartlund, he becomes involved in a civil war that stirs something in his emotions.
Human beings die every day for the causes that they believe in, but Task cannot die – at least not easily. As he fights for the glory of a young boy king, he begins to realise how trapped he really is. Task longs for freedom, and he will do just about whatever it takes to get it.
Fantasy books are not for everyone. Filled with unfamiliar creatures, complex names, and, quite often, a whole world to try to get your head around, they can be hard to get into. This is only partially true in relation to Ben Galley’s The Heart of Stone. Although this book can be a little tricky at times, Galley eases his readers into the world he has created, compelling them to read on with his believable characters, heart-stopping narrative, and a sense of magic that prevails throughout the story.
Task is an unusual protagonist; it is not often that a story is told by a non-human character, but, in terms of The Heart of Stone, this made for a welcome change. What is more, he is a protagonist who readers will want to support; the quintessential underdog, he is consistently put down by those around him. His Master, along with the soldiers around him, expected nothing more than a machine, yet when Task arrives, they are faced with a thinking, talking, living being – and that horrifies them. How could a creature with such an inhuman appearance and such inhuman power have a human mind?
Of course, Task is not the only character in this novel. He is often accompanied by Lesky, a young, confident girl who, like Task, has spent her whole life as a slave. Unlike most of the characters in this book, Lesky does not treat Task as a machine. She wants to help him, understand his story, and, quite remarkably, she wishes to be his friend. Of all the characters in this novel, Lesky is arguably the character whose actions can be questioned the most. Where would a young girl such as her find the courage to approach a seemingly bloodthirsty Golem? Would she not be shy and timid as her Master desires? It is very possible to ask these questions, but, despite her unexpected confidence, it cannot be denied that Lesky is an extremely likeable character. She adds a lot to the narrative, bringing to it an element of compassion that makes the novel much more accessible.
In fact, Lesky’s presence in the narrative is needed, because a lot of this novel is quite violent. It is most certainly an adult book, and it is set during a time of war, focussing on the story of a Golem who is often called a war machine. There is a lot of blood, violence, and a fair amount of graphic imagery, so if these kinds of things are likely to put you off a book, this one might not be for you. Then again, they are generally very well written, and they remind readers of the terrible life Task leads. As a result, the violence in this book never seems needless; it is powerful, and, more importantly, it is vital to understanding The Heart of Stone.
I said earlier that a lot of fantasy books present quite big worlds to their audiences. For some, this can be a drawback to the genre, but Galley’s The Heart of Stone reminds us just how powerful that can be. There is so much to this world – so many characters, details, places, and even ancient texts that are quoted at the start of each chapter. I fully enjoyed reading The Heart of Stone; it took me a little while to get into it, but, once I did, there was no getting out again.
Review by Emily Weatherburn
Emily is a freelance proofreader and copyeditor who recently graduated from the University of Exeter with a first-class honours degree in English. She has always loved the written word and promotes reading in others by sharing her reviews of books and short stories.