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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Crown Of Ash by Steven Montano (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Blood Skies 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Black Scars 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Soulrazor
Read Steven Montano's guest post on Cross-genre writing
Read an extract HERE 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Steven Montano is the author of the Blood Skies series. Steven attended college at University of Colorado wherein he graduated with a degree in creative writing. He currently works as a certified public accountant. He’s also addicted to caffeine, movies, and NBA basketball. He lives with his wife, two kids, and a dog of dubious intellect in south of Seattle, Washington. Blood Skies was his debut.

OFFICIAL BLURB: Eric Cross and his team have been to hell and back, but their journey isn’t over yet. Marooned in the remote criminal city of Blacksand, the only way for the mercenaries to get home is to help a local crime boss protect his territories from the Ebon Cities.

To complicate matters, Danica Black is also being hunted by The Revengers, a powerful band of corrupt prison wardens, while Cross himself is trapped in the Whisperlands, a realm of darkness controlled by a cadre of evil mages known as the Shadow Lords.

The team will battle their way through corroding wastelands and deadly vampire outposts, but even their considerable skills might not be enough to save them from the cruel machinations of the Shadow Lord’s mysterious master, a malevolent creature who has manipulated their destinies right from the beginning...

CLASSIFICATION: Steven Montano’s Blood Skies series can be thought of as Glen Cook’s Black Company meets Andy Remic’s Clockwork Vampire Chronicles.

FORMAT/INFO: Crown Of Ash is 292 pages long divided over twenty-two numbered chapters with a prologue. Narration is in third-person by Eric Cross, Danica Black and Mike Kane. Crown Of Ash is the fourth book of the Blood Skies series and it would be extremely ill advised to start the series with this book.

August 18, 2012 marked the e-book publication of Crown Of Ash and it was self-published by the author. Cover art is provided by Barry Currey.

ANALYSIS: I have been reading Steven Montano’s series since I discovered the first book early last year. I have read the first three books so far and while I didn't enjoy the third book as much as the first two, I’m still enjoying the series as a whole. The first two books had standalone plots while the third book ended on a cliffhanger of sorts. The fourth book picks up immediately after the events of Soulrazor and the readers get a glimpse of a new part of the world in the Blood Skies series. Lastly I must reiterate that since it’s the fourth book, there might be some spoilers for the first three books so please be warned those who haven’t read the first three books.

We come across a familiar crew of faces that have captured our imagination with their grit, comradely bonds and overall attitude. Eric Cross, the series protagonist is a bit out especially after the events of the climax of Soulrazor. Danica is now the team leader however she finds herself and the team hobbled after they are forced to hide in Blacksand, the city away from Southern Claw as well as the Ebon Cities. The Revengers, the group of mercenaries that Danica was a part of earlier, are hunting them and they will not stop until they find her. There’s also Mike Kane who is put under the spotlight and becomes the second character after Danica Black to get his own POV chapters. This move becomes a lot clearer on reading the book and so I’ll hope the readers RAFO about it. This book is another fast paced thrill ride and continues the tradition of showcasing a few more aspects of the world of Blood Skies.

Before I begin I have to mention Steven Montano is a cruel guy; I say this with all the sincerity of my heart. He's a cruel guy who absolutely punishes his characters to their physical and mental all. This book continues the trend of the earlier wherein the characters are pushed to their absolute maximums in all areas. The story has two distinct threads dealing with characters in two different locations. Danica, Kane and the rest of the group are trying to get back to what they know as their home. Cross is physically with them however mentally he’s in a completely different place called the Shadowlands which as we learn is of major importance for a whole bunch of reasons. The story then completely immerses the reader in these two plot threads and we are kept on tenterhooks in both of them. The story has quite a lot of pace and twists and even a few serious character deaths. This has been the norm in the previous books however one such event left me shocked as a reader as I couldn’t fathom that the author would pull such a move. The ending is a brutal one and basically makes the next book The Witch’s Eye a must read because of the events that have occurred.

After my experience with the third book, I was a bit wary of this series going downhill for me but with this book [fourth] my enthusiasm for this series is renewed doubly. I must say this book was a whirlwind of action, revelations and plot twists, which keep the reader unsettled in their read and this is a very good thing. Often in series the middle volumes act as transitional volumes and there’s not much happening. Steven Montano eschews this practice and thus makes this middle volume equally important in regards to the revelations and characters arcs that are laid bare in this volume. Prose is another point that the author uses effectively to convey the dread and desolate nature of the world within. I had mentioned in my earlier reviews that this was the author’s strong point and it continues in this book as well. However the author sometimes over enthusiastically goes about his task and that might be bothersome to some readers.

I would have to say that there are a few drawbacks to this story, namely these robust descriptions can be at times overwrought. The author really drives home the bleakness of the world and the character’s despair at their individual situations. This can sometimes seem a bit too much but it is said “the hottest fires forge the strongest steel” and I’m going to give the benefit of doubt to the author that he’s striving to prove this maxim to the hilt. There’s also the pace in one of the plot threads, which seems to be meandering for the first half of the book and only gains prominence and speed in the latter half. These are the factors that detract against the enjoyment that the book provides and it is entirely subjective.

CONCLUSION: Steven Montano is a talented writer and with this book, he proves that he’s no one or two-book wonder and that he has planned a terrific series arc for his characters and readers. Crown Of Ash is a fantastic book and even though is a middle volume, is completely free of all its trappings. The Blood Skies series is a genre-amalgamative one and Crown Of Ash is a superb indicator of the series potential.


Melissa (My words and pages) said...

You have me convinced, and when I went to look up the first book I see I have it. Now to get time to read it. Thanks greatly!

The Reader said...

Hi Melissa,

I'll be waiting to see how you find Blood Skies [book I].



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