8/10 – Will be posted on Fantasy Book Review shortly.
I received an advance reader copy of King of Ashes in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Raymond E. Feist and Harper Voyager.
For many generations, the five great Kingdom’s had enjoyed a time of peace and prosperity. Each realm had its own Monarch and the story begins with a great battle and the betrayal of Steveren Langene, the King of Ithrace. He is known as Firemane because of his bright red hair and his Kingdom was a place of arts, culture, and merriment. His former allies are looking to execute him, his family (not excluding the women and children), and leave his city and legacy in ashes. After the Firemane house’s inevitable demise and when the conflict has concluded the powerful Baron Daylon Dumarch finds a mysterious young child in his war tent just before his army is about the return to his freehold of Marquensas. As a former close acquaintance of Firemane’s, he believes that this baby is the last of the late King’s children and has somehow escaped the rest of his families fate.
Following the prologue, King of Ashes picks up the action 17 years later. There approximately 5 point of view perspectives throughout the narrative; however, 90% of the tale follows two individuals. Hatu, a very angry and often confused fiery haired individual who has been training at a school for a hidden organisation known as the unseen army of Coaltachin. This school trains its members in many criminal activities including spying, robbery, and assassination. The second main perspective is that of Declan, a 22-year-old blacksmith who resides in a sleepy town in an area known as The Narrows. He’s looking to progress to be the youngest ever Master Blacksmith. He is reminiscent of Gendry from Game of Thrones.
Feist has created a world that shows real quality and depth that’s full to the brim with histories, different races and cults, many religions (although all but one is currently vilified), and political intrigue. My favourite aspect of the narrative was discovering more about Hatu and his two closest friends at the assassin school. Unlike some popular fantasy tales such as The Name of the Wind and A Wizard of Earthsea, most of the education provided to these students isn’t classroom-based. It mainly consists of these apprentices being set tasks and objectives out in the streets under the watchful eye of Masters and criminal gang leaders to earn their skills and reputations. The cult is complex with certain codes of ethics and secret statements that say one thing but imply something completely different. These segments were an absolute joy to read.
Another major positive for Kings of Ashes is the well-realised amazing characters. It presents slow burning character development excellence. I really enjoyed reading about Baron Daylon Dumarch and his bastard half-brother whose, although seemingly decent individuals, we never really grasp and understand their motives throughout. King of Ashes is a pretty brilliant first step in what will no doubt be an excellent fantasy trilogy and it seems that only the mere surface of the depth and possibilities have been revealed so far. Especially with reference to magic. I don’t like comparing novels to other big names in the genre as it’s often a lazy shortcut or an easy sell for a blurb. On this occasion; however, I think King of Ashes deserves to be heralded in the current fantasy scene alongside heavyweights such as A Game of Thrones, The Name of the Wind, and The Lies of Locke Lamora and fans of those aforementioned works will find much to enjoy here. My only real issue is that this is obviously the first of a trilogy/series and it’s not brilliant as a standalone tale. It doesn’t conclude with a huge battle or insanely intense set-pieces. It sets future events up well though but as a potential reader, I’d say do not expect any real form of closure as the first book in The Firemane Saga concludes. That being said, I read the last 15% of the book very slowly making sure I took in every invigorating word as I truly didn’t want King of Ashes to end. There are enough intriguing events at the book’s climax and potential avenues the future story arcs could traverse that I will definitely be picking up book #2 as soon as I can. King of Ashes is Epic Fantasy written by one of the masters of the genre and mixes political intrigue, secret assassin cults, and a hidden heir to one of the Kingdoms, whilst always presenting excellent world-building and sublime character development.