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Monday, July 20, 2020

A Testament Of Steel by Davis Ashura (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
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OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFO: Davis Ashura is a Physician by profession but an author by choice. He was inspired by his love for epic fantasy and his south Asian cultural heritage to begin writing. He has published eight books and one collection so far. He lives in North Carolina with his lovely family and loves to drive muscle cars.

OFFICIAL BLURB: A young man with no past must progress into a warrior out of legend.

Cinder Shade’s life begins on a fateful afternoon at the bottom of a well where he awakens, bruised, battered, and bereft of all memory. His only understanding is a driving imperative—to protect those who can’t defend themselves and become a warrior worthy of the name.

He discovers within himself a peculiar gift, one in which the codes of combat are made evident and the language of steel is made clear. When he earns a place at a prestigious elven warrior academy, Cinder fights to enhance his knowledge and perhaps even humble the proud elves who believe no human is their equal.

His hard-earned skills are put to the test when strange rumblings emanate from deep in the Dagger Mountains. Monsters out of myth emerge. And so does something far worse . . .

An ancient god. The world believes this deity long dead, but he is very much alive. And he remembers his enemies all too well. Even if they don’t remember themselves.

FORMAT/INFO: A Testament Of Steel is 654 pages long divided over thirty-nine chapters and an acknowledgements section & an Author’s note. Narration is in third person via Cinder Shade, Princess Anya and a couple other characters. This is the first volume of the Instruments Of Omens series.

July 20, 2020 will mark the North American paperback and e-book publication of A Testament Of Steel and it is self-published by the author. Cover art and design is by Andreas Zafiratos.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Davis Ashura is an author whom I got to meet at Dragon Con a couple of years ago and since then I’ve read both the first volumes of his previous two finished series. With this book, he has initiated his master series a La Sanderson with his Stormlight Archive. Also this would be his ode to Tolkien, & Jordan for installing the love of epic fantasy in him. I was mighty excited for this book and as promised, it was a big Jordanesque tome.

The book begins with a small village called Swallow wherein due to an attack of a snowtiger, leads to the death of a family. However there’s one survivor, a young clubfooted boy named Cinder Shade. Barely escaping the attack due to a fall down a well. He survives the fall but loses all of his memories. Turned out by his villagers, he travels with a priest named Deepak to the town of Swift Sword wherein he hopes to stay in an orphanage. Thus begins the epic journey of the amnesiac boy named Cinder Shade as he discovers there’s more to him than just his disability. He will find out how to become a warrior and try to gain admittance to the most elite warrior academy of Yaksha Sithe. Thus begins this first fascinating volume.

The story as written by Davis Ashura is a very simplistic one but it’s very, very absorbing. The story begins with a very narrow focus and slowly but surely reveals that there’s more to Cinder and the world known as Seminal. We are introduced to the other races such as Elves and Dwarves who view themselves as the “Blessed race” from humans and Dwarves. While the dwarves are forces to keep their motivations secret and act tough while wanting peace. I liked this racial exploration which was conveniently woven into the story rather than told to us.

The story is very much an immersive one as it features aspects of the amnesiac narrator as well as the marital academy tropes and I loved how the author explored them. Going onto the main aspect of the book which I loved was the world building and the hints of the magical apocalypse that have occurred in the past. The author has also laced pointers about his previous books as apparently characters and the magic are related in a big way. You don’t need to have read any of his previous works to be able spot them. He’s made this new world and series a very accessible point infact, after reading this one, you would be very much inclined to check them out.

The characterization beginning with Cinder Shade is very solid and while this is mostly a singular POV. The secondary character cast is very strongly presented and while we don’t get many other POVs. Cinder’s narrative focus is plenty good. However this singular POV also hinders it a little bit as we only get to see things from his perspective. Also with Cinder progressing the way he does, we don’t really get to see much of his internal feelings as he’s very much buttoned down. The author is going for a certain angle with the amnesiac approach but he makes sure to present his vulnerabilities.

I think the author showcases some aspects of avatarhood and reincarnation but not outrightly so. I loved how the author utilizes his Indian cultural roots and mythology and creates an epic fusion of Tolkienesque fantasy alongside Indian mythology & culture. I liked this aspect as an Indian as I rarely find such a unique aspect in epic fantasy genre. There’s the usage of certain Indian terms such as Prana, Nadi, Chakra which are easy to understand from a Desi perspective but will not be a hurdle for western audiences.

The action sequences are another strong focus of the story and due to the marital academy storyline, we get some spectacular individual sequences and towards the last quarter we get many more epic battle sequences. I enjoyed how the author built up to them and promises to have the action get more and more audacious in the sequels. The author also laces some wonderful nods to several popular culture stories and movies. I caught a few such as Harry potter, Captain America Civil War etc. But those with a keen eye can find plenty more.

For the drawbacks about this book, they aren’t outright but there’s a few niggles. Firstly the pace of the book is a bit on the sedate side. From the beginnings of the book, we are taken through the story and shown a lot about the world and its inhabitants. This comes at the behest of the story’s pace, while it does pick up in the climatic chapters. The book’s massive page count and its pace can make the read to be a bit arduous. Lastly Cinder as a character while fascinating is very much a cipher due to the story’s demands (amnesia & very little reveal about his origins). This can be a bit frustrating to some readers especially since when we complete the volume. We get only bits and pieces about what and who he might be. Not a big dealbreaker but can be irksome for a few readers. Lastly the narrow scope of the POV characters and with them majorly being from Cinder himself. We do get a stilted view of things due to Cinder being a bit stiff on the emotional front (understandably so from the story’s perspective).

CONCLUSION: Bringing together fascinating elements from Tolkienesque fantasy and Indian mythology, Davis Ashura has written a fascinating, new type of epic fantasy which is heroic, action-packed and very accessible for those looking for their next new epic fantasy fix. A Testament Of Steel focuses a lot on steel (both literal and metaphorical), and provides a sharp story that will have readers markedly awaiting the next installment to see what emerges from the brilliant mind of Davis Ashura.



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