The Heart of Stone is a much darker, more mature story than my introduction to Ben's world, and that's precisely what I was looking for. Task is a stone golem, built for war hundreds of years ago, and bought-and-sold like any other weapon over those violent centuries. I wondered myself just how engaging a golem could possibly be as a protagonist, but he did not disappoint. Here we have a weapon of war who is tired of war . . . a monster without a soul who is more man than those who own him. There's a heaviness to him (no pun intended) that somehow elevates each scene, rather than dragging us down into the blood and the mud.
Make no mistake, this is a novel of the grimdark subgenre, a violent fantasy that doesn't glorify war or paint its world in bright shades and pretty trappings. It's a book with very little in the way or love or laughter, but still a lot of heart. There are some good people with whom Trask surrounds himself - including a kick-ass young woman, a proud old knight, and a wheelchair enabled general - and they help him to grow into the redemption he has sought for so many years. The villains are almost too evil, but somehow they stop shy of becoming over-the-top caricatures. In fact, within the context of the ugliness of civil war, they're actually somewhat fitting.
While I suspect some readers may have an issue with the pacing, it worked for me. The first half of the novel is largely character development and world-building, which is perfectly fine when you have such an unusual protagonist whose moral dilemma is at the heart of the tale. Once the heart of the story kicks in, it's far easier to appreciate what's going on, knowing who (and what) is at stake. There is a conversation somewhere around the 70% mark, where Trask interrogates Lord Lash about the nature of the civil war, questioning everything from why the church takes sides to what each side has to lose, that really serves as the transition into epic storytelling.
Kindle Edition, 488 pages
Expected publication: March 30th 2017 by BenGalley.com
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.