An interesting start to a new fantasy series
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.
I’ve been a fan of Daniel Abraham’s work since the Long Price Quartet, so every new novel of his is a highly-anticipated event. Each of his novels and series offers something new for readers. Age of Ash is the first in a new fantasy series, and is packed with interesting ideas and cool twists on fantasy tropes and elements.
The story predominantly follows the journey of Alys — a thief mourning the loss of her brother, and trying to forge a place for herself in Kithamar. She takes a fake-it-’til-you-make-it approach to her new life, and finds herself entangled in deadly palace politics. Meanwhile, we also spend plenty of time with her friend Sammish: smitten with Alys, but unable to make these feelings known, she settles for being a confidante and colleague. However, as Alys’s life takes her deeper into the intrigues of the Kithamar elite, Sammish comes to worry about what is happening to her friend. Inevitably, they find themselves on somewhat opposing sides in a struggle that is so far out of their league.
One thing that is very clear from early on is how well Abraham has constructed this fantasy world. Even though it’s completely new, it feels pretty complete and comprehensively conceived. Abraham gives us a lot of information about how the city of Kithamar works — its social structure, the struggles of its inhabitants, the neighbourhoods. We also, gradually, learn of the politics and power struggles of the elite. Given the reveals that are well-spaced throughout the novel, it’s a little difficult to write about them without spoiling some surprises. So, to avoid this, I’ll just say that the author has included some great twists on palace intrigue, resurrection, and an understated magic system.
Despite this excellent world-building, I found myself struggling to connect with the novel. At times, it felt like a bit of a slog to get through. I ultimately didn’t feel as engaged with the characters as much as I’d hoped (and certainly not as easily as I did with his previous works). Even though we spent quite some time with her, Alys felt distant and not as engaging as one might expect. For me, Sammish was a much more interesting character. Certain seemingly-major events happened off-page, and were announced rather suddenly. I’m not sure if this is a result of my attention drifting, but there were times when the plot felt subordinated to the world-building (and descriptions of pickpocketing tactics — there’s really only so many ways to describe what they’re doing, so not sure why we need as many of them as we got…).
The story felt drawn out. I’m not sure how the second novel in the series is going to shape up (or even feature any of the same characters). I’ll still read it, in the hopes that some of the events of Age of Ash fall more clearly into a bigger picture. I would not be surprised, though, if at the end of the series I find myself thinking it could have been a shorter and more tightly plotted. (I’m very open to being proven wrong, and I hope I am.)
Abraham has a gift for writing series and novels that feel quite different from his others. If you like one, you will likely find much to like in his other books. If you don’t like one, then you are still likely to find something to like in his others. Unfortunately, for me, Age of Ash didn’t quite work for me.