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Friday, June 12, 2020

Legacy Of Ash by Matthew Ward (reviewed by Caitlin Grieve)

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE (US)HERE (UK)

AUTHOR INFO: Matthew Ward is a writer, cat-servant and owner of more musical instruments than he can actually play (and considerably more than he can play well). He’s afflicted with an obsession for old places – castles, historic cities and the London Underground chief amongst them – and should probably cultivate more interests to help expand out his author biography.

After a decade serving as a principal architect for Games Workshop’s Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 properties, Matthew embarked on an adventure to tell stories set in worlds of his own design. He lives near Nottingham with his extremely patient wife – as well as a pride of attention-seeking cats – and writes to entertain anyone who feels there’s not enough magic in the world.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: A shadow has fallen over the Tressian Republic.

Ruling families -- once protectors of justice and democracy -- now plot against one another with sharp words and sharper knives. Blinded by ambition, they remain heedless of the threat posed by the invading armies of the Hadari Empire.

Yet as Tressia falls, heroes rise.

Viktor Akadra is the Republic's champion. A warrior without equal, he hides a secret that would see him burned as a heretic.

Josiri Trelan is Viktor's sworn enemy. A political prisoner, he dreams of reigniting his mother's failed rebellion.

And yet Calenne Trelan, Josiri's sister, seeks only to break free of their tarnished legacy; to escape the expectation and prejudice that haunts the family name.

As war spreads across the Republic, these three must set aside their differences in order to save their home. Yet decades of bad blood are not easily set aside. And victory -- if it comes at all -- will demand a darker price than any of them could have imagined.

FORMAT/INFO: Legacy Of Ash was published in paperback in the US on April 9th, 2020 by Orbit Books. It is 800 pages spread over 69 chapters and a prologue. It is told in the third person across multiple viewpoints. This is the first book in the Legacy Trilogy. It is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Fifteen years ago, Katya Trelan led the southern dukes in a failed rebellion to break away from the Tressian Republic, a failure that ultimately led to her death. Since then, her two children Josiri and Calenne have lived under house arrest at their estate near the border of the empire, trying to appear model prisoners while each plotting their own way out. Calenne's future lies in her upcoming wedding, when she can finally shed her mother's name and abandon the tainted legacy; Josiri wrestles with when, if ever, he will take the scattered remains of his mother's rebellion and lead them in defiance once more. But all plans are for naught when the Hadari Empire begins to invade at the nearby border. The invasion brings Viktor Akrada to the Trelan's doorstep. Viktor was responsible for crushing their mother's rebellion, but now he offers full pardons to anyone who helps fight back the invaders. Can Calenne and Josiri trust the Republic to keep their word? If only it that were the only question on the table. There are darker, more magical forces at play, and the gods themselves may be nudging fate...

If you like big, sprawling tales of empire where the intrigue among noble houses is as critical as the battles between nations, have I got a book for you! Legacy Of Ash is a book of moves and countermoves, with assassins, bribery, and conspiracies in the capitol city, and sweeping epic battles on the fringes of the empire. Alliances are made and broken as houses scrabble for power. These were the best parts of Legacy Of Ash, and I have to admit I was always faintly sad when the POVs broke from the power struggle at the capitol and returned to the duchy of Eskavord and the struggles with the Hadari. Those who like big battles will find plenty to like here as well, the siege of Eskavord taking up a considerable section of the book.

Magic occupies a curious space in the world of the Tressian Republic. Only magic that is considered derived from the benevolent goddess Lumenestra is allowed, and only then when practiced under the control of the state. Viktor, we soon learn, has a different kind of magic, one he's struggled to conceal for fear of being burned at the stake as a witch. You won't find hard magic systems here, but more nebulous magics derived from different gods. Magic outside of Lumenestra's in both feared and but also falls into the realm of myth; it's the boogie man that makes you lock your door at night, even as you protest it isn't real. But even without hard and fast rules, the magic was fun to watch and at times eerie. I particularly liked the kraikons, mechanical constructs powered by "sanctioned" divine energy and controlled through a talisman.

Where the book worked a little less for me was with the characters. That's not to say they're badly written; I personally just had a hard time connecting with people when I spent only a few pages at a time with them as the action bounced all over the empire and between factions. There are several POVs outside the three "main" characters, ranging from servants to council members. I definitely had favorites: Halvor and Kurkas were an interesting duo, and I rooted for Melanna, a princessa of the Hadari struggling to be respected and treated as an heir when woman are considered not fit for the battlefield. (Side Note: the Tressian Republic is fully egalitarian when it comes to the sexes, with women serving in the army and in politics without a second thought.) And Viktor himself was the core of the story, as he struggles to unite factions within an empire that are determined to hate each other. Nevertheless, I always felt a bit at a distance, and sometimes found motivation for character choices slightly lacking. There are likely plenty of readers who won't have this issue; for me personally it stopped the book juuuust short of being a four-star read.

The book is also one that takes a commitment, not just because of the 750+ pages, but because there's a sizable amount of set-up. Things do eventually take off; the ending in particular ramped-up the tension and pacing considerably as events came to ahead. Still, a late third act development introducing a new villain did feel a bit tacked-on. I can only assume this is part of the overall conflict for the full trilogy but for me it felt a bit disjointed, especially as the main conflict died down, only to have someone pop up and go "Excuse me, we have an unrelated situation over here, can you come deal with it?"

CONCLUSION: Legacy Of Ash is going to scratch the epic fantasy itch for a lot of people, particularly if you love watching people plot against each other. I enjoyed my time reading it, and can certainly say if this sounds like your cup of tea, go check it out! If you're frequently put off by hefty tomes that require patience before pay-off or have a yen for deep character work, than this might not be the one for you. Otherwise, grab a hot beverage and settle in for a grand tale of intrigue and battle!


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