Age of Ash
Updated: Feb 3, 2022
Rating - ⭐⭐⭐
"Kithamar is a center of trade and wealth, an ancient city with a long, bloody history where countless thousands live and their stories unfold.
This is Alys's.
When her brother is murdered, a petty thief from the slums of Longhill sets out to discover who killed him and why. But the more she discovers about him, the more she learns about herself, and the truths she finds are more dangerous than knives.
Swept up in an intrigue as deep as the roots of Kithamar, where the secrets of the lowest born can sometimes topple thrones, the story Alys chooses will have the power to change everything."
Age of Ash is the first novel in the upcoming fantasy Kithamar series by Daniel Abraham.
First and foremost I would like to thank NetGalley and Orbit for giving me the opportunity to review this book in advance. Please note that this in no way affects my opinions. Also note that what I read was an ARC, and things may be subject to change for the official release.
The best way I can explain my experience reading would be to use analogies. This is like a complicated recipe full of spices that takes hours to make. But, when you finally taste it, it somehow manages to be bland. I am not saying that this was a bad book, it was just like I was reading this while being underwater. I can see the potential and the effort the author took in crafting the world and story above me, but down below everything was muffled.
I just wasn't engrossed in the story, and I feel like I blacked out while reading because I ended up missing crucial information that left me confused for the entirety of the book. That is partially on me for not paying as much attention as I should have, and partially on the story for just not holding it.
Now, let's get into the details.
The text is more on the dense side, with chunky paragraphs and more description than dialogue. I did find that because of that, it took me longer to get through this than usual.
As for the format of the book, there were some things missing. There is a placeholder for a map which is a must-have for an epic fantasy, I would have liked to see it now though but I cannot fault them for that. I am also unsure what the image at the beginning of each chapter is supposed to be, a placeholder?
A complaint I have about the format would be the lack of chapters. This book is divided into three parts and that's it, there are no individual chapters which was a bit odd. I also wasn't the biggest fan of the way the perspectives were divided. I will go more into this in the characters section, but there were a couple of main perspectives, which would shift mid-chapter without warning.
In terms of language, while it was dense, it wasn't hard to digest the actual words. There were some one-liners that didn't really fit and stilted the dialogue though, but my only complaint about the writing was that there were a lot of mentions of whores...a lot. There are also cusses in this if that is something that bothers you.
One note I would like to make is that the ARC was 350 pages, but other copies are 450-550 pages, so either the page counts are wrong, or there is a good amount of content missing.
I went into this without re-reading the synopsis, so I had no idea what the book was about. A sign of a well-planned story is being able to follow without knowing what it is about, and this does that to an extent. I was able to pick up on what this story was about, for the most part, but it didn't hit the right stride, and it took a bit to find its footing.
I was confused in the beginning because you don't know the world yet and terms are being thrown at you with no context. It also took its time introducing the characters and the world, longer than I would have liked.
The catalyst for the story is the death of one of the main characters, Alys, brother's death. With a catalyst like that, it is crucial that you form some sort of baseline familial bond to go off of in order for the story to make sense and for the reader to get a good sense of the situation. Because this happens right off the bat, however, that needed bond was not properly established and thus, I didn't feel the emotions the story was trying to convey.
With this being the catalyst as well, I thought the story would focus on Alys trying to figure out what happened to her brother, but that was not a main priority at all really. We also follow the Daris Brotherhood and their agenda, as well as Sammish who is trying her best to fix things. I found that the Daris Brotherhood storyline could have been interesting, but I just didn't care that much for their agenda. The only story I really cared to read about was Sammish's.
This book takes place in Kithimar, a land that was formed after the Hansch invaded the Inlisc. We remain rather stationary throughout the book, staying in Longhill which is the oldest of the 12 districts of Kithimar.
While there was visible effort made to create an expansive world, I wish the cultural aspect was fleshed out a bit more. There is some form of a religion with the mention of priests, gods, and religious factions, but it is not described in detail. The only thing that was noteworthy to me was the amount of detail the author went into when describing funeral practices.
Another part of the culture that was missing was language. Now, it is not required of fantasy authors to create their own language for the worlds they are building, but it does help create authenticity and set it apart from other worlds.
What surprised me the most though, was the lack of a complex magic system. In fact, magic was barely used or explained in this. There were hints here and there, but they weren't as fleshed out as I wanted them to be.
With the exception of one, I felt no connection whatsoever to the characters, for several reasons. For one, they were either just not interesting, or were a bit annoying, to follow. Secondly, there were too many names being dropped initially. It dwindled down the further you went along, but a chapter would suddenly start with a new character frequently and it was too much.
As for the main characters, let's start with Alys. I don't think she was meant to be a particularly likeable character, and I know that characters don't have to be likeable for the book to be well written. However, how likeable a character is is crucial for me as my enjoyment of the story hinges on it. If a character is unlikeable, the story has to be phenomenal in order for it to not impact my rating.
That is not the case here, as you can see based on what I have already said. Alys, due to circumstances that I have already gone over, ends up spiralling and making bad choices in her grief. Even though it is made obvious that Alys is lost, I didn't feel like she portrayed the intensity and determination of someone who is desperate to find out who killed her brother. She just felt like a very muted and flat character, and nothing about her pulled me into her story or made me care about her. When she did have development it happened very suddenly and then it would proceed to be turned around again.
I also thought that the way we are introduced to Alys put her in a bad light for me. Since this is the very beginning I wouldn't count this as spoilers so I will go into it. Alys is a thief who goes around with a group of people in order to distract and steal from unsuspecting people. What bothered me about this was the way in which Alys distracted people. In order to catch people off guard and to confuse them, she would grab a woman's chest or a man's crotch. I just don't think it was necessary at all not only to introduce your main character like this but to have this in there in general.
As a very small side note, again not really a spoiler, but Alys fully hit a dog at one point which was where any and all, however minor, sympathy I had for her character went right out the window.
Thankfully though, another main character we follow is Sammish, who I felt was the one good thing I liked about this book. Sammish is pretty much the opposite of Alys as she is very aware and logical. I found that she also had a lot more agency as a character and did far more in this story than Alys did.
Finally, one character I would have liked to see would be Byrn a Sal. The story starts with the death of the prince, a prince who is more or less only mentioned by name. I feel like this character had an important role in the world, and you decided to focus on a couple of young girls and a religious Brotherhood instead.
As I said in the introduction, I could see that the author did build a well-crafted world and story, but it was simply just one that did not grab my attention. Sammish was the saving grace for me as I did enjoy her sections of the story the most but, unfortunately, it wasn't enough for me to give this book any higher than a 'meh' rating.
In all honesty, I will probably forget all about this book. However, I would still recommend this because I think that a lot of other people will get way more out of this than I did.