Good morning shed people!
I don't know about where you are, but here, it's autumn and it's very cold! Luckily, I got a couple of advance reviews of Ashael Rising and all the blushing they caused has warmed me right up. Maybe they'll warm you up too.
From Peter Hutchison, blogger at www.thegrimdarkfiles.typed.com :
How is everyone? What do you love most about the fantasy genre? This is a question that I am often asked and my answer is always..the wonderful feeling of being able to explore a secondary world.
A recent opportunity came when I was asked to review a novel called Ashael Rising by Shona Kinsella I was given a free VARC to read and this is my honest review. What a ride I was in for! This is the story of invasion and the fight against it and the consequences. It is also a wonderful coming of age story as well, this is a particular trope in fantasy if done wrong can be fatal for it....fortunately this is not case. The character of Ashael and the journey she goes is one of the most incredible that I have had the privilege to read. For those who follow my blog I try and keep everything spoiler free and this is no exception!
Everything about this novel gripped me the word is wonderfully described, everything from the malice of the invaders to the snakes that live on the forest floor! This is a fantasy world that has been truly well imagined and when you finish you will think that this place exists! Shona's writing is easily accessible as well, a nice easy to read style that eases you in to her invented world. The magic system is intriguing and unique (pay attention as it is important!) and plays an important role in the story and the characters development ( my hat is off to Shona for creating such a awesome magic system). Also no info dump is inflicted on the reader either (again thank you Shona) you are eased in to this invented world and allowed the time to get used to the world and its many characters.
When you get an opportunity to read Ashael Rising do so without hesitation! This is a book not to be missed for any fan of fantasy literature!
And from Alex S Bradshaw on behalf of the Indie Review Team at British Fantasy Society:
Ashael Rising is a fantasy story that has at its core many elements that are staples of a traditional fantasy story. It has evil invaders from another world, it has a chosen one, and it has folk that dwell in the woods. For all this Ashael Rising feels different and it uses these elements as rough guidelines to build something new not as rigid directions through old, well-trodden paths. Shona Kinsella has written a book that has comfortable roots in traditional fantasy but created a story that feels fresh and exciting.
For example, an immediately intriguing element to this book is that the main character is a medicine woman. Not a usual choice for a fantasy protagonist. The titular Ashael is apprenticed to an experienced healer and lives in the woods with her community helping them as best she can.
Shona Kinsella’s world also makes a departure from the usual pseudo-medieval European setting that we see so often and we spend much of the time in the Cams: utopian communes who are at one with the environment around them. This contrasts sharply with the invaders to the world, the Zanthar, who live in an enormous stone fortress and are vicious, sadistic characters that must feed on the life-force of others to survive. I thought this was a great way that set up the antagonist forces in juxtaposition to those of the protagonist.
Despite the fact that the setting is much departed from the usual fantasy fare there was no extraneous exposition. The author steers well clear of the deadly info-dump trap and keeps the dialogue and writing on course throughout whilst not letting the reader get lost in strange terminology. Although I did feel that at certain points more description a scene’s setting would not have gone amiss. I was quite curious as to what the stone halls of the Zanthar looked like but was glad that I wasn’t drowned in description.
The plot began slowly and I felt that the pace could have been faster in the beginning, but once all of the characters were given a sense of agency and were able to be proactive the story was much faster without feeling rushed and I found myself speeding through the pages. This was definitely helped by the writing was very strong throughout; Kinsella provides clear scenes and imagery and I never found myself getting lost amongst the letters.
There is a full range of characters, mostly centered on Ashael’s Cam, but I think that the author has created personalities and the contrast of the woodland folks’ philosophy and that of the invaders lend themselves very well to the conflict. It was nice to see a main character who did not fit into the typical role of the weapon-wielding super-powered protagonist and I thought that it gave Ashael an interesting and different perspective to that which you would normally find in a ‘chosen one’ story. Beyond that the other characters come from a society which differs very much from our own and I was glad to be able to explore that as part of the story.
I hope that in the next book the characters of the invading Zanthar are explored more fully. Though the author has created credible villains with proper motives and reasons for acting despicably there is a risk that it may become gratuitous in the next book. Having said that I think that the groundwork for this has already been laid as more Zanthar characters have been introduced but not properly explored at the end of the book.
I believe that the first books in a series should be able to be enjoyed alone with a sense of resolution that leaves doors open for the rest of the series. I think that Kinsella does this well: there is a clear conflict that is restricted to this single book with enough foreshadowing for me to wonder where the plot is going and with plenty of mileage in the overarching plot of the series and a lot more of the universe to explore. Further to this, as we read further in the book we know that there is much more to the world Ashael inhabits than that which we have already read. There are numerous races and I look forward to finding out more about them.
The fact that the Zanthar’s are aliens to the world the story is set in was something I really liked. I very much hope that we can find out more about all of the different worlds and see whether they can work together with Ashael’s people to help defeat the Zanthars.
Although this book could stand to be a bit faster paced at the beginning it is a strong debut that builds on traditional fantasy that is fresh, exciting, and interesting. The book as a whole has nice thematic contrasts, interesting characters, and we only seem to have touched the surface of the world that Kinsella has created. I would recommend it if you are looking for a new voice in fantasy with a few new twists on the elements we already know and love. I am sure that the next book in the series will be an exciting development of the story and I look forward to it.
So, what do you think? does this make you desperate to get your copy? Leave me a comment!
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