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Friday, May 24, 2019

Kings of Ash by Richard Nell (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski & Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order Kings of Ash over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Kings of Paradise
Read Fantasy Book Critic's interview with Richard Nell

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Richard Nell concerned family and friends by quitting his real job in 2014 to 'write full-time'. He is a Canadian author of fantasy, living in one of the flattest, coldest places on earth with his begrudging wife, who makes sure he eats.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Follow the long, bloody journey of Ruka, son of Beyla through the islands of Pyu and the frozen wastes of the Ascom; see the return home of Ratama Kale Alaku, the 'Sorcerer-Prince', and the terrifying rise of his 'miracles'. Before the end, a shocking history will unravel, ancient connections unfold, and all will learn the cost of unleashing the Kings of Ash...

FORMAT/INFO: Kings of Ash is 665 pages long divided over twenty-nine chapters. This is the second volume of the Ash and Sand series.

The book was self-published by the author on January 19th, 2019 and it's available as an e-book. Cover art and design is provided by  Michael Shinde.

ANALYSIS (Lukasz): 
You’re all slaves. But I will free you. I will drag you from this place kicking and screaming if I must.
Sequels are hard. As a reader, I want to know what happens next but when I’m about to pick up a sequel to a book that devastated and enthralled me impatience and hunger mix with anxiety. What if the story I loved loses a sense of direction or disappoints? It’s happened more than once. 

After I finished Kings of Paradise, I wasn’t sure how and if Richard Nell could top himself. I mean, where do you go from there? To the inevitable clash of titans? Or maybe you twist things and prove readers wrong?

Nell did both. 

He delivers a heart-wrenching and devastating story with real, believable characters you care for despite their monstrosity. He doesn’t give much humor, save situational one. Instead, he gives strong intrigue, tragedy, and terrifying insight into the inner workings of the greatest mind of a generation. 

Kings of Ash focuses on Ruka. It tells his story, unravels his past, and shows what drives him, and how he’s been made. It’s not a story for the faint-hearted as it contains graphic violence, physical and sexual abuse, mentions of rape, and cannibalism

It’ll make you hate, love, fear and cheer for Ruka. It won’t give you the answers you’ll desperately need. Is he a mad prophet, a semi-god, god or something entirely else? I hope we’ll get the answers in Kings of Heaven in 2020.

Dala and Kale appear, but they get just a fraction of screen time compared to Ruka. Not a problem for me as I consider him one of the greatest characters in contemporary fantasy. To make things more interesting Nell gives plenty of exposure to another fascinating character from KoP - King Farahi. I was right to consider him complex and intriguing. 

You may wonder if KoA is better than Kings of Paradise and as flawless as my ramblings may suggest. My answer may surprise you - no, it isn’t. It has minor flaws like repetitive descriptions of Ruka’s preternatural skills, especially near the end, or few long-winded parts of the story with small impact on the over-arching plot. Additionally, in places I found extreme and graphic violence disturbing and, perhaps, unnecessary. And then, there’s the ending. I’ll brood on it for weeks. Was it really the only way? 

That said, Ruka’s story made me experience moments od deep and genuine emotion and this means a lot to me. That’s the reason I’ll round the rating up and will await 2020 with growing impatience.

ANALYSIS (Mihir): Sequels are incredibly hard as first time writers have often talked about. It gets trickier when your first book gets near universal acclaim. Richard Nell finds himself in such esteemed company along with Rothfuss, Lynch, and A. Ryan. For us reviewers it gets trickier as those first books are sheer magic. How does one compare the sequels to them?

To discuss this book will be very spoilerific and so I’ll do my best to reveal as little as possible. Richard Nell really outshines himself with this one as he gives Ruka the space to shine. When we last met Ruka, he was diminished in battle and mind. Not trusting his ownself and left with a death wish of sorts, he takes a boat and ventures out in the northern seas. Thinking that he’ll die, he finds that fate has much more for him when he reaches the islands. Taken prisoner and soon forced to revert back to Bukayag. Ruka’s journey will have him learn what truly his life’s mission is. Meet someone who might be his intellectual equal and also figure out more about his mental grove. This book is all about Ruka as you can surmise and the surprises in it only lead to more questions.

With Kings Of Ash, Richard Nell circumvents the Kane vs Abel approach that was so evident in his debut Kings Of Paradise. With this book, there’s a major twist right in the first few chapters that wasn’t evident in the previous book and I thought that was a very devious one. This book is almost all about Ruka Ruka and how he’s gained his abilities. We get to see where and how he ended up in the Pyu islands and what befell him. There’s also Kale’s chapters as we find out who and what he’s become after his temple sojourn. He’s constantly flummoxed by his abilities but finds himself becoming more and more powerful as the days go by. Lastly there’s very little of Dala but she shines in the meager amount of page time that she gets. Her presence makes her reunite with Ruka and they find out what it is that they have to do. Now that Ruka brings back word of the impossible.

Richard Nell has truly given readers a great gift with Ruka. He’s an enigmatic savant who has taken it upon himself to right what he sees as life’s injustices. The first book we saw Ruka’s childhood and saw why he became the way he did. He was brutal, a bit bloodthirsty and trying to figure out whether he was a monster or a mistake. In this book, Ruka truly finds out what he can do (and it’s big). What his destiny is and finally someone who treats him for the genius individual that he is rather than the grotesque monster he might seem to be. This book really goes in-depth about Ruka’s thoughts and we get some more gems like:

There is only fear and failure. The world is cruel to the weak. How they suffer does not matter.”

Success is often luck and to think otherwise is arrogance. Your burden is only to try. Face your path with courage, and let come what may

There’s some crazy magic stuff which even though unexplained, ends up being a lot cool. I can’t wait to see what the eventual reveal is about. The story really takes the slow route in showing each and every step of Ruka’s evolution. While I really enjoyed this, I’m not sure it will be to everyone else’s liking. The story’s pace takes a backseat in this regard but only because we get a thoroughly detailed look in the happenings. The world-building is really expanded as we get a solid look into the Pyu Islands, the monastery and possible origins of the Ascom people. All of this and more is revealed which made the read such a rich one.

We also meet king Farahi and get a more in-depth look at his thinking process as well as his past. He’s a cipher from Kale’s perspective but from another, he’s still a cipher of sorts but there’s a humane side of him which we get to see. We learn what and how he thinks, what moves him and who is it that he trusts. After reading the Farahi sections, I desperately wanted to re-read Kale’s sections from Kings Of Paradise.

The only complaint I have about this book is its ending which brings me back to my first point about this story not going the Kane vs Abel route. The last twist actually hearkens back to the rivalry that’s showcased from the first book and we get a culmination of that. However the ending is an odd one as both protagonists do things that run counter to what’s happened so far. This I can’t talk more without massive spoilers so I’ll leave it at that. But this was the sole point that I would say was off for me.

CONCLUSION: I don’t want to say anything more about this book. Because it is a direct follow up to Kings of Paradise, anything I tell you about the story of Kings of Ash will tell you how KOP ended. Let’s just say that the story develops in few timelines and when they converge, Nell will prove you wrong and then break you. I‘m not saying more. If you want the rest, go read the books. 



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