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Friday, October 7, 2011

“Ashes of a Black Frost” by Chris Evans (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Iron Elves Website
Official Chris Evans Blog
Order “Ashes of a Black FrostHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read FBC’s Review of “A Darkness Forged in Fire
Read FBC’s Review of “The Light of Burning Shadows

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Chris Evans has earned degrees in English, Political Science, and a Masters in History. As a historian he has conducted battlefield tours of Europe, and was the historical consultant on a television documentary on the First World War. He is also as an editor of military history and current affairs for Stackpole Books. His bibliography includes The Iron Elves trilogy.

PLOT SUMMARY: Amidst a scene of carnage on a desert battlefield blanketed in metallic snow, Major Konowa Swift Dragon sees his future, and it is one drenched in shadow and blood. Never mind that he has won a grand victory for the Calahrian Empire. He came here in search of his lost regiment of elves, while the Imperial Prince came looking for the treasures of a mystical library, and both ventures have failed. But Konowa knows, as do the Iron Elves—both living and dead—that another, far more important battle now looms before them. The campaign in the desert was only the latest obstacle on the twisted, darkening path leading inexorably to the Hyntaland, and the final confrontation with the dreaded Shadow Monarch.

In this third novel of musket and magic in Chris Evans' Iron Elves saga, Konowa's ultimate journey is fraught with escalating danger. A vast, black forest finds a new source of dark power, spawning creatures even more monstrous than the blood trees from which they evolve. The maniacally unstable former emissary of the Shadow Monarch hungers for revenge, leading an army of ravenous beasts bent on utterly destroying the Iron Elves. A reluctant hero, Private Alwyn Renwar, struggles to maintain his connection to this world and that of the loyalty of the shades of the dead. And in a maze of underground tunnels, Visyna Tekoy, whom Konowa counts among those he has loved and lost, fights for her life against the very elves he so desperately wants to find.

And so Konowa sets off from this Canyon of Bones, pursuing his freedom from a curse that has cast his life in darkness. For though his long, violent trek may indeed lead him to his destiny, he is ill prepared for the discovery he will make . . . with the fate of the Iron Elves, and the world, hinging on the courage of one wrathful elf...

CLASSIFICATION: The Iron Elves trilogy is a cross between military fantasy and PG-13 sword & sorcery fantasy. Think Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore and Jennifer Roberson combined with a smattering of Glen Cook’s Black Company novels and Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series.

FORMAT/INFO: Ashes of a Black Frost is 448 pages long divided over thirty-nine chapters. Also includes a map, a glossary, and a letter from Major Konowa Swift Dragon. Narration is in the third-person, mostly via Konowa Swift Dragon, but there are several minor viewpoints including Visyna Tekoy, Private Alwyn Renwar, Viceroy Faltinald Gwyn, etc. Ashes of a Black Frost is the third and final volume in The Iron Elves trilogy after A Darkness Forged In Fire and The Light of Burning Shadows. It is recommended that readers finish A Darkness Forged In Fire and The Light of Burning Shadows before attempting Ashes of a Black Frost.

October 18, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Ashes of a Black Frost via Gallery Books. The UK edition will be released on October 13, 2011 via Simon & Schuster UK.

ANALYSIS: Chris Evans’ The Light of Burning Shadows was a marked improvement over the author’s debut novel, A Darkness Forged In Fire, highlighted by an exciting finish to the book. Because of the cliffhanger ending and the improvement shown over the first novel, I had very high expectations for Ashes of a Black Frost, the third and final volume in The Iron Elves trilogy. Unfortunately, those expectations were shot to pieces.

Ashes of a Black Frost opens with the Iron Elves dealing with the victorious, yet tragic aftermath of their battle in the Hasshugeb Expanse, and Major Konowa Swift Dragon coming to a decision to confront the Shadow Monarch once and for all. From here, the Iron Elves face evolved sarka har, rakkes, and numerous other dangers on the beginning of their journey to the Shadow Monarch’s mountain in the Hyntaland, which starts the novel off on the right track. Unfortunately, Ashes of a Black Frost soon becomes sidetracked by unnecessary humor/silliness (HMT The Flying Elf for example), romance and various subplots—Private Bawton Feylan, Viceroy Alstonfar, the Queen’s heir, et cetera—that fail to add anything of value to the book.

To make matters worse, Chris Evans spends far too much time dealing with events in the Hasshugeb Expanse—around 350 pages to be more precise. That only leaves less than a hundred pages to cover the rest of the Iron Elves’ journey to the Hyntaland and Major Konowa Swift Dragon’s final confrontation with the Shadow Monarch. Which leads directly to the novel’s biggest issue: a lack of payoff. As the third and final volume in The Iron Elves trilogy, Ashes of a Black Frost wraps up most of the series’ most important storylines—the Shadow Monarch, the Blood Oath, the Darkly Departed, Konowa’s relationship with Visyna Tekoy, Alwyn Renwar’s transformation, the revenge of Faltinald Gwyn and Corporal Critton, and so on—but does so in a manner that is largely unsatisfying. Not only that, but the book never resolves the mystery of Rallie Synjyn or settles matters between Konowa and the original Iron Elves.

Writing-wise, Ashes of a Black Frost is a mixed performance. On the one hand, Chris Evans continues to impress me with the military aspects of his series and a creative imagination accompanied by skillful prose. On the other hand, weak characterization, shallow world-building and straightforward plotting are once again problems. In this case, I was particularly troubled by the author’s ineffective attempts at romance & humor, and the decision to mainly narrate Ashes of a Black Frost from the POVs of Konowa and Visyna, which made Alwyn, Prince Tykkin and the rest of the novel’s supporting characters virtually useless.

At the end of the day though, the unfulfilling payoff remains the novel’s most glaring problem. Simply put, I wanted to be rewarded for all of the time and effort I had invested in The Iron Elves trilogy, but instead, Ashes of a Black Frost was a disappointing conclusion to Chris Evans’ series. Still, The Light of Burning Shadows is ample proof that Chris Evans can write highly entertaining epic fantasy. So for now, I remain interested in the author’s future efforts, but he has to do a better job...

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