By: Daniel Abraham
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit Books
The Age of Ash, by Daniel Abraham, is an epic fantasy centered around the beautiful city of Kithamar. It is an unusual city, forged together from warring races and kingdoms who buried their hatred, came together and now live as one people. Remnants of the old are not forgotten, as Kithamar is has various districts where people of different backgrounds tend to live together. It is world building as its finest. Mr. Abraham richly portrays a city which immerses the reader in the tastes, sounds, music, and people who live there and festivels they participate in. But it is a city with the underbelly we have come to expect, the poor areas where people struggle to make enough to survive. In stark contrast to the richness of the rest of the city, we drawn to these hardships just as clearly as we are to its finery. It is here where we meet our main protagonist, Alys, making a living as a thief, feeding off the rich with her friends Sammish and Orrel. Alys is not a typical young thief we see often in fantasy. She is not an orphan, but in the destitute section of Kithamar, Longhill, and for the people there, the Inlisc, there is little opportunity. The Age of Ash I found very different from other fantasies in that it is set entirely in Kithamar. The city is life itself to its people.
Alys, story and character arc unfold brilliantly. She has a mother and a brother she sees very little of. It is her brother, Darro, I would say that she in awe of, despite his working for a gang that seeks an important artifact, a knife. While Alys loves her brother, and he does help her, he shows little affection towards her and does not see his mother. A pivotal point is Alys’ life is when Darro is murdered. In writing Alys reaction to his murder, and Darro being gone from her life, Mr. Abrahm makes Alys all of us. We see in her the reaction we all have to the death of someone we love. She misdirects her grief and anger at her mother, and proceeds to follow in his footsteps. To keep Darro “alive,” Alys emulates him; she becomes who Darro was. The problem is that she is not Darro, and this choice has dire consequences.
The magic system is highly unique. I would venture that it borders almost on necromancy. It is cruel and dark, but necessary to move the narrative forward. The knife and the magic are significant, but saying much more will delve into spoiler territory. Suffice to say, despite how evil it is, it is extraordinarily well done.
Her friend Sammish recognizes what she is doing and desperately tries to steer her away, but to no avail. While Sammish cannot help Alys, her arc takes her on a different path. That path sets in motion what is simmering in the city of Kithimar. The artifact is essential for carrying out a ritual that will change the city. Sammish and Alys’ arcs once again coincide, but can they stop the forces that will undermine Kithimar forever?
The pacing and prose were excellent. The narrative flowed smoothly, told in the third person by the main players in the novel. It was very exciting, and each chapter left on a cliffhanger making the reader want more. There was never a time in reading The Age of Ash that there was nothing happening. It was page turning excitement built around the city, the main characters, and the magic. The prose was beautiful as we follow Alys’ journey and her realization that Darro is truly gone. I found myself tearing up and many points because I related very well to Alys was feeling and going through. I understood her and what she was doing, and coming to terms with it. When a writer can elicit emotional responses in the reader, you know you have read a brilliant piece of literature.
The Age of Ash is masterful epic fantasy. With the incredible world building in the creation of Kithamar and the characters who live there, the two elements wove seamlessly together. Kithamar dictated everything the characters did. We were drawn to the intensity of the city, and both the main protagonists and antagonists of the book. The third person narrative allowed the reader to see the character’s motivations and how they developed. I think it was excellent choice to get the many perspectives rather than have the story told by Alys. We would not have gotten the feel for the city and its importance for all who live there. The character development was on par with the best of fantasy. Alys’ loss of her brother made her relatable to all of us, as we see the echoes of those we loved and how we reacted. Sammish is the friend we all want. One who knows us best and will also be totally honest with us. The magic is unique and dark, making the main antagonists, Adomaka and Ausai particularly brutal. I feel that diversity is important in any genre of books, and while it is albeit a little heartbreaking, there is LBGT representation. The Age of Ash was an amazing read from start to finish. I look forward to the next installment.
Summary (from NetGalley)
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.