It Began With Ashes by D.E.M. Emrys
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I do not often read fantasy written in an Iron Age setting, but I've been following this emerging writer for quite some time, so I gave it a shot. And you know what? I enjoyed it.
It Began With Ashes is Emrys' novel debut. He succeeds in where most fantasies fail by avoiding passages of exposition in favor of action and character development. And when I mean action, I mean lots of action. At lest fifty percent of the book has the characters fighting for their lives, and there are a lot of characters.
The book opens up with Astartes, the 12 year old son of the Tax Collector Nicholas. Then it introduces Kale, the twelve year old son of Draven and Morganna Reinhardt, ex-mercenaries and also characters that get their own time in the sun. While the two boys and the sword wielding married couple are the ones who lend the reader their eyes, there is a whole cast to support each of them. There is Deule and Damian, two more 12 year old boys. McGowan, Draven's employer. Ivebian, Draven's friend and skull-crusher cohort. Not to mention a handful of red shirts that shall not be mentioned for spoiler sakes.
For a short novel, I couldn't help but think, "This is a lot of people, but who's the main character?" That's one of the weak points of this novel. I want to say it's Astartes and Kale over any of the adults because they undergo the greatest character development and ask the heavy questions like, "Why is all this blood and killing not affecting anyone else?" If that is the case, this novel is less about the veteran soldiers and more about the children trying to cope with death dumping its bowels all over them through the adults' sword work.
Emrys' world building is effective without slapping the read upside the head with a history text. Most of it is conveyed through character interaction with the world and their thoughts. It's based in an environment much like Roman occupied England with Viking's beating down on the heads of the poor villagers while their occupiers tax them to death. The names are easy to pronounce, especially if you've played Skyrim. Emrys has a glossary at the end of the book, but it really isn't needed unless you're into that kind of thing. His writing is clear and straight forward enough that the context tells the reader everything.
His pacing is good. It gallops along at a steady speed with only a few pot holes. The village raid foes on a bit too long and the book ends to soon. Yes, way too soon. While It Began With Ashes does have a plot from the beginning that is achieved by the end (Get to the Mercenary Guild.) and follows the story rule of rising action, climax, and falling action; it felt like it needed more. The ending is like the horse smashed into a garbage truck going 60 in the opposite direction. It could have been longer and I wouldn't have cared.
So why 4 stars?
It's a well structured story with an easily understood but complex world. The characters are distinct with their own problems and thoughts that develop over time. And he can write.
Looking forward to the sequel.
View all my reviews