Review: Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham

Kithamar is a center of trade and wealth, an ancient city with a long, bloody history where countless thousands live and their stories unfold.

This is Alys’s.

When her brother is murdered, a petty thief from the slums of Longhill sets out to discover who killed him and why.  But the more she discovers about him, the more she learns about herself, and the truths she finds are more dangerous than knives. 

Swept up in an intrigue as deep as the roots of Kithamar, where the secrets of the lowest born can sometimes topple thrones, the story Alys chooses will have the power to change everything.

Publication details: 15 February 2022 by Orbit. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Rating: 3/5

Review

Daniel Abraham is one of those authors that has been recommended to me for a long time, so I was thrilled to get an ARC of his latest series opener… and promptly put it off until I was in the mood for epic fantasy. Having now read it; however, I’m struggling with what to say, so apologies to anyone who recommended his work wanting my opinions.

Age of Ash is not a bad book, for anyone wondering. Abraham is a talented writer and I enjoyed his various turns of phrase and found myself easily able to visualise Kithimar, the city at the centre of this story, as well as the cast of characters. While it starts off a little slow, there’s also plenty of action in the final third, where some of the decisions taken previously start to pay off.

But my problem is that, in a golden age of fantasy novels, Age of Ash did the bare minimum to capture my attention, and no more. Kithamar is well-described, but it feels like basically any other pseudo-medieval fantasy city. It probably doesn’t help that we only see a small snippet of the city: the grime and disease ridden alleys that are home to society’s poorest, and a few nobles’ houses. I found it really hard to situate any of the politics happening in the city within a broader world, or to care about Kithimar’s fate.

Similarly, the main characters Alys and Sammich are well written, and the moments when their respective interests bring them into conflict are some of the best scenes in the book, as the reader can understand both characters’ perspectives that have led to their inevitable falling out. But they still feel like generic scrappy thieves, with nothing to differentiate them from any other thief characters… making this book a hard sell when there are so many books out there, all telling very similar stories.

While this all sounds negative, I will in fact be reading the sequel. Abraham has indicated he will be retelling the events that take place throughout the year this story is set in from other perspectives, and it may well be that this series is one where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I’ll give it a second chance – but book two is going to have to really blow me away.

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