Book Review: Ashes of the Sun by Django Wexler

Title: Ashes of the Sun

Author: Django Wexler

Publisher: Orbit

Publication date: July 21, 2020

Genre: Fantasy

Summary: Twelve years ago, Maya was five and her brother Gyre eight, innocent children about to have their lives torn to shreds when Maya is taken by a centarch to train her to be one as well. At the same time, Gyre is seriously wounded by the centarch, and vows to bring down the Twilight Order that has taken his sister, and one eye, from him. Twelve years later, Maya is a step away from becoming a centarch in the Order and Gyre is known as Halfmask, a rebel seeking a lost ghoul city called the Tomb where he hopes he can find something to bring down the Order. On opposite sides, the siblings unexpectedly meet again, equally unexpectedly after the same item of mysterious abilities that can break the world.

This is one of those books where I’d rather not have read reviews prior to reading it. There are several that draw similarities to Star Wars, which I could absolutely see. The only problem is that, while not a fan of or very familiar with the series, I couldn’t quite shake the Star Wars feel. It was odd and a bit uncomfortable to be reading along only to have some image from the movies or a TV series pop into my head and become unshakable for several pages. That said, though, I do adore books with siblings who happen to fall on opposite sides, so I really couldn’t resist and it was kind of fun to read a not-Star Wars book that had so many elements I love: great characters, strong world building, and a relentless story.

The Characters: Two Siblings on Opposite Sides

Ashes of the Sun follows siblings Gyre and Maya who haven’t seen each other since they were young children. They clearly loved each other as siblings do, but twelve years made a huge difference. Still, there was still some love between them that then impacted following events. I loved that they could still see each other as family, but also see they were on opposite side and view their side as the right one. My favorite part was that the chapters flipped between their points of view, so it was interesting and informative to get some of the same events from their differing perspectives.

Gyre is a man whose present has been shaped by his history. Early on, he learned to hate the Twilight Order for what it did to him and his family. His thirst for revenge eggs him on, making him take chances and make assumptions. I did admire his loyalty to his cause, but it also made him out to be someone who uses other people and doesn’t have much of a heart even though he did care to some degree. At other times, though, he seemed like a rather deep individual with conflicting morals pulling at him, lending him depth and the ability to make me like him.

Similarly, Maya seemed to be driven by a single cause: to learn the truth about her mentor Jaedia. But she felt more fiery, more likely to stumble into a situation and use all of her resources to make it right. I liked her devotion to the Order and her cause and that it felt like she trembled a bit on whether to give herself over completely to what the Order deemed right. Really, though, I think the characters around her really made her Maya. I adored her team, though my favorite, the scout Varo, wasn’t seen as much as I would have liked. Still, I loved Tanax and how he seemed to be so snooty and superior, but really had his foundation severely shaken. Beq, Maya’s love interest, was awesome. I loved how, as an arcanist, she was really into the arcana they came across and was easily fascinated by things others would prefer to pass by. Mostly, though, I loved her glasses. I have no idea what they really did, but they seemed to do amazing things for her vision.

Then there are the centarchs and the ghouls. They are on opposing sides, the ghouls being the more ancient ones. They were deeply mysterious, but utterly fascinating. I hope to learn more about them in later books. The centarchs were really well-thought out, but I wonder if that’s because of the Star Wars influence. I did like that the various centarchs Maya and her team came into contact with were quite a varied group, and it was interesting to see how they came across was infallible and superior, but also really human.

The Setting: A Fascinating, Highly Detailed Single World

Comprised of the Republic and the Splinter Kingdoms, Ashes of the Sun differs from Star Wars in that there’s a single world instead of who knows how many planets. Still, I could see the influence. I adored that this world had a history that wasn’t just referenced, but felt like it was living and breathing. It clearly played a role in the entire novel and I felt like there was as much of a history to it as our world actually has.

I really enjoyed the mix of science fiction and fantasy elements. While most of it felt more influenced by fantasy, there were still science fiction elements like skyships and the arcana that required magic, but also felt high tech. The magic, called deiat, was fascinating. It manifests differently in each centarch, so their weapons, kind of like the lightsabers, manifested differently. It was fascinating to read about how they used both blades and magic in battles, as well as the ramifications of using too much power.

I had a hard time telling whether the world was more fantasy-inspired in general or more Star Wars-inspired. The characters traveled widely across the world, the centarchs through gates and Gyre and his pal Kit on foot. There was everything from tunnels to cities to small villages to the middle of nowhere. It felt like things I’d see in a typical fantasy novel, but I also kept getting images from Star Wars traveling through my mind. Still, I feel like there’s more to learn about this world, and I’m a little hazy on the political setup. But I have high hopes for the next book!

The Plot: A Sticky, Complex Web

This is the story of two siblings on opposite sides, of shades of gray against shades of gray. I’m not sure if it was reading other reviews prior to reading Ashes of the Sun or if it was really there, but it was Star Wars with it’s own unique spin, with a single world and different powers, but still one side against another with similar elements. I just missed the traveling through space part.

At the same time, I think of Star Wars as a family saga and Ashes of the Sun as a story of siblings. I loved the story of Gyre with his relentless pursuit of something than can bring down the Twilight Order, but also with a soft, loving spot for his lost sister. I adored the story of Maya seeking to earn her place in the Order and discover the truth. They seem different, yet are inexplicably intertwined as the shades of gray begin to emerge. It’s about a brother and sister who have been torn apart and taken to opposite sides, but who still care about each other. It’s just their morals and beliefs that get in the way.

This was also a very fascinating treasure hunt as both sides were looking for something called the Core Analytica even though only the ghouls, long extinguished, have any clue what to do with it. Alone, this hunt seemed a little ridiculous considering the length and detail of this book as it felt centered around a question of what if one side wants this thing for one purpose while the other side wants the same thing for another. But, tangled with siblings who come together and leave each other in a fascinating dance, it comes together as a cohesive and intriguing story that leaves me wanting to read more. Overall, a treasure hunt couched in politics from two different sides and the siblings caught up in the web. At the same time, it felt like a really long setup for the greater story, as well as introduce Burningblade and Silvereye (the name of the series) in a long winded kind of way.

Overall: Stunning

Ashes of the Sun is long. It’s dense. There’s fantastic world building. There are people who feel real with real emotions and values. There’s a tangled web that this book just barely scratches the surface of. There’s a lot to it. But it moved at an organic pace, never really slowing, never really galloping, but always moving towards something in a natural way. I do think I would have enjoyed this book more had I not read prior reviews, but, when I could knock it out of my head, I was always left stunned by this book and can’t wait to read more of the series.

How many cups of tea will you need?

5 cups of tea most certainly

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Thank you to Angela Man at Orbit for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

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