Sometimes you find a fantasy novel that’s not extremely original, but is so much plain fun to read that you just can’t help but love it. The Last Stormlord by Glenda Larke is one of those books: despite using some recognizable fantasy templates, it’s a great story and a book I found extremely hard to put down.
Whenever the main character in a fantasy novel is poor and young, you can be almost certain that they’re destined for great things later in the book or series. The Last Stormlord uses this “Ugly Duckling” trope for not one but two main characters. Terelle is a poor young maid in a snuggery (an elegant euphemism for a brothel), who is looking desperately for escape because the next step in her career path is to become a prostitute. Shale is a poor young boy growing up in a desert village, trying to hide his unique gift — finding hidden water in the desert — from his abusive father.
Shale’s gift is especially meaningful because in the Quartern, water is the most precious and valuable commodity. The land depends on its Stormlord for rain: he creates rain storms, and the water is collected in an elaborate system of pipes and cisterns that distribute it to the population. The population relies on its leaders for their water rations… and now the last Stormlord is dying.
The Last Stormlord‘s perspective switches back and forth from Terelle to Shale to several rainlords who are trying to cope with the imminent water shortages in various ways, such as looking for a new stormlord, or finding new ways to stretch the limited water supplies (e.g., cutting off the storms for specific parts of the land).
Glenda Larke gradually reveals the novel’s fantasy world as the story progresses: first the established cities of the Scarpern quarter, then the more primitive and poor Gibber lands where Shale grows up, later the Red Quarter and its nomadic Reduners, and towards the end the White Quarter and its mysterious “Alabaster” inhabitants, with even some hints about the lands beyond the Quartern. There’s only one noticeable infodump about the land’s history, and it’s short and more or less integrated into the story. The rest of the world’s details are gracefully revealed to the reader throughout the story.
The Last Stormlord is also extremely well-paced, occasionally skipping a few weeks or months between chapters so the story keeps moving along at a pleasant pace. You won’t find 100-page descriptions of a single journey here: this novel is basically all story and zero filler, so the pages just keep turning themselves. I hope this pacing will continue in Stormlord Rising, the next book in the Watergivers trilogy.
Plotting is at times a bit transparent and predictable, and a couple of characters have names that are truly cringe-inducing, but despite those minor problems, this novel is easy to love. With its smooth storytelling style that should go over very well with fans of Brandon Sanderson, and an overall theme — water shortage and conservation — that’s acutely relevant in today’s world (how rare in a fantasy novel!), The Last Stormlord is a tremendously entertaining read that’s easy to get sucked into, hard to put down, and never boring. Recommended.