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Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Dark Sea's Ends by Richard Nell review (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo and Łukasz Przywóski)

Official Author Website
Order Dark Sea's End over HERE (USA) or HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Kings Of Paradise
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Kings Of  Ash
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Kings Of Heaven
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The God King's Legacy
Read Fantasy Book Critic Interview with Richard Nell
Read Fantasy Book Critic's The God King's Legacy Cover Reveal Q&A 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. His books mix his love of history and ideas with the epic glory of fantasy, because reality could use some sprucing up.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Feared pirate and scoundrel ‘Lucky’ Chang has a dirty secret: he loves his crew, and would die to protect them. As he’s dragged from prison to face the dark sea and a dangerous new world, he just might have to.

Zaya, warrior and skald from the land of ash, knows she has a destiny. Having left her homeland with only a knife and a dream of adventure, she finds herself captured by pirates. To discover her fate, and become a hero from the book of legends, she must first survive the sea.

With a monstrous pilot as guide, and an ex-assassin as captain, Chang, Zaya, and the crew of the mighty Prince sail into uncharted waters. There they may find new lands and wealth, as well as glory beyond their dreams, or nothing but their doom.

FORMAT/INFO: Dark Sea's End is 411 pages long divided over forty-three chapters with a prologue & an epilogue. Narration is in the third person view via Chang, Zaya & Yacat. This is the first volume of the Beyond Ash and Sand trilogy.

The book will be self-published by the author on June 1, 2021 and it's available as an e-book and paperback. Cover art is by Felix Ortiz and design is provided by Shawn T. King.

OVERVIEW/ANLAYSIS (Lukasz): Once I started Dark Sea's Ends, I couldn't put it down until I surfaced, impressed, from an exciting adventure featuring Ruka. Nell cranked the pace up to eleven and kept the pedal to the metal. The story is fairly simple: Ruka and Eka travel across the sea, discover unknown lands, and affect the balance of power between fighting tribes. 

Only, it's not that simple. If you're already a fan of Nell's Ash and Sand series (and you should be), you're already used to the multi-layered stories he's been telling for the past few years. Tales of war and betrayal, grief and regret grafted onto a simple frame of dark fantasy adventure. 

So, you probably want to know if it's the same as Kings of Paradise and its sequels? No. Dark Sea's Ends opens a new saga in Ash and Sand Universe. It revolves around Ruka and his mysteries, but this time he is not a POV character. Nell has chosen to hand his narrative over to new protagonists. He allows us to see Ruka through the eyes of people who have no idea what they're dealing with. 

Chang is a pirate saved by Ruka and Eka to take them across the sea. Along with his crew, he hopes to kill his rescuers as quickly as possible, steal the ship, and enjoy the life of violence. Unfortunately, things don't go as he planned. After rescuing a young woman, Zaya, things get even more complicated. You remember Egil? Cool. Zaya is his daughter. She wants to experience as much as possible and tends to idolize Ruka and the life of adventure. Zaya and Chang are attracted to each other and Zaya's presence on a ship filled with pirates causes some tension.

The third protagonist, Yucat, was my favorite. He's a prince of a foreign tribe expected to sacrifice what he loves most in games of power. He despises the new religion and its priests and the ritual of sacrificing people to The Devourer. In war, he fights only to kill, partially because death and danger make him feel alive but also because he's against making men slaves. His arc awed me - I got everything I expect from a hero's journey - powerful conflict, growth, moral dilemmas, and badass action.

Dark Sea's Ends is an excellent novel, well-paced, fun, and very well written. I enjoyed it for a rip-roaring and inventive adventure and a promise of exciting events to come in the sequels.  It probably won't have you scratching your head about meanings and undertones weeks later, but then why should it? 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (Mihir): Richard Nell’s Ash And Sand trilogy was a revelation for me, it was a superb fantasy story that ended on a spectacular note. However when I heard from the author that he planned to write a new series titled “Beyond Ash And Sand”, I was intrigued and beyond curious as to what the “Beyond” meant.

The story begins a few weeks after the events of Kings Of Heaven. This book features new protagonists (or at least new-ish, considering that one of them has had a POV before). The first POV character we meet is Lucky Chang a pirate captain imprisoned and desperate. He has been given a final chance along with his crew to save their necks. Lucky and his crew have to join a ship with a feared captain and his even scarier pilot for a voyage into the unknown. Next on the POV list is Zaya, a daughter of a famous Skald who is looking to get a taste of adventure of her own. She travels to the new northern lands that recently have been discovered and soon finds out that sea adventures are often the bloody kind. The last POV is another new character and I don’t want to reveal who. They are a fascinating character with the most moral dilemma amongst all the characters. There are also two returning characters who are non-POV ones this time and boy was it great to be re-acquainted with them.

I loved the scope of this story, which was partly a sea-faring adventure story, and partly a discovery sojourn. The author had previously done a bit of this in his debut trilogy but over here structurally, thematically and even with the length of the story, he does things quite differently. The first thing I want to highlight about this book is its pace, which is very much akin to a thriller. The book clocks just under 90K and unlike his debut (and most recent fantasy stories) was a revelation with so much plot packed in so little word count (as compared to fantasy titles nowadays). The main plot of the story very much reminded me of Eaters Of The Dead with a bit of Apocalypto in that there’s a group who are brought into a new civilization that’s alien to them and the author also brilliant explores a Meso-American-like culture.

Secondly characters have also been a strong point for Richard Nell and here it’s no different. We get POV characters who are varied and as different from each other as can be. Chang is a pirate with a hidden heart of gold, he has his rules and he will not leave any of his crew behind, no matter the cost. Zaya is a brave young skald (warrior-poet) who is looking for adventure and finds that real life is rarely as flowery as the poems make it out to be. The third POV character is the most intriguing one as they are forced to reconcile their own beliefs with the demands their family places on them. The author really enjoys exploring facets of history within his fictional world and here we get another such a scenario. The whole concept of “religion and deluding the masses for personal gain” is strongly explored while giving the readers a multi-faceted approach to this struggle. Zaya and the third POV were my favourites among the three main characters, however there were quite a few non-POV ones that struck my fancy. The captain of the ship is obviously an enigmatic, deadly warrior and I would have loved to see a couple of scenes from his POV. Also the pilot, who doesn’t get a POV but shines brightest nonetheless. Lastly there’s a cat who’s my namesake and I pleasantly chuckled when that was revealed.

There are also some fascinating action sequences and none better than the very last one. For fans of the previous trilogy, this is going to be one epic sequence. For new readers, it is going to be a revelation and if they wish to find more of such. They will be able to access the Ash And Sand trilogy to enjoy more. The worldbuilding is majorly expanded and I loved how the author explored a whole new civilization while being drastically different from which came before. I have to give kudos to Richard Nell here, so far he’s given us a multifaceted world wherein people similar to Scandinavian, SE Asian, Mediterranean, East Asian & now Meso-American cultures are living. I loved how diverse his world is and it is explained very organically.

The magic system is also expanded upon within this new volume. In this new series opener, there is the addition of shadow demons (not a spoiler as the cover brilliantly features one such entity). I have my theories about what these shadow demons might be but I will need to read more to see how it connects to the God King Legacy novella omnibus as well as the previous trilogy.

The cover is also another smash hit as Felix Ortiz & Shawn T. King make their special collaboration noticed. The colours, the artwork & the typography are all together create a cover that’s quintessentially fantasy while also revealing a particular aspect of the story.

For me the only negative was that, I need the next book now. This new series start from Richard Nell has made a few things clear:

-     - He’s not one to rest on his laurels

-     - He likes to experiment with style and it’s very distinct how different this first book is to that of his debut trilogy

-     - He likes to make things unpredictable with the story, as seen with his previous trilogy and seemingly with this one. It’s very hard to say where the story will go next. This is a good thing from a reader standpoint.

CONCLUSION: Dark Sea’s End is a fascinating start to the Beyond Ash And Sand series, for me it was a great start to a new series set in the same world. I think the best way to sum it up is to say Eaters Of The Dead meets Apocalypto. Dark Sea’s End is a must read for those who have yet to be enraptured by Richard Nell & those of us who have become lifelong fans of his.


 NOTE: Our thanks to Richard Nell for the chance to participate in this blog tour. Check out all the reviews that will be posted in this week:
 May 31st (Monday) - Grimmedian blog
 June 1st (Tuesday) - Fantasy Book Critic
 June 2nd (Wednesday) - Dan Rymes blog
 June 3rd (Thursday) - The Bookwyrm Speaks blog
 June 4th (Friday) - Out Of This World blog



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