Book Review: Legacy of Ash by Matthew Ward

Title: Legacy of Ash

Author: Matthew Ward

Publisher: Orbit

Publication date: April 7, 2020

Genre: Fantasy

Summary: On the night their mother was killed for leading a rebellion, southwealders Josiri and Calenne became prisoners in their family home at Eskavord. Fifteen years later, Josiri is on the verge of calling on the secret rebels to spark rebellion anew while his younger sister seeks to escape the shadow of her mother’s memory by marrying a northwealder of high standing. The Black Knight, Viktor Akadra, the man who murdered their mother, gains the ruling Council’s approval to march into the Southshires to fight off the invading Hadari Empire. However, the Council dangles from puppet strings, promising nothing more than death and destruction for the entire Tressian Republic.

I’m not exactly sure what drew me to this book, but I like a good rebellion and enjoy some court politics. The book description also mentioned magic and claimed this to be an epic novel. Every time I read the description, my mind is instantly transported back in time to when I was a high school freshman seeking out interesting new fantasy series to devour, so I suppose that’s why I couldn’t let the opportunity to read this one pass me by. I’m so pleased it not only lived up to what I had built it up to be, but kind of bowled me over with all the intricacies.

The Characters: A Surprising Mix of Complex and One Note

I’d argue that the main character is Viktor Akadra. Not only did I feel like he got more page time, but he was also the most complex with the most to lose and gain. He tried to be morally sound, but there was a darkness to his soul that he couldn’t overcome no matter all the good he tried to do. He was both dark and upstanding, though his desire to do what was right and his susceptibility to the darkness were often at odds with each other. It was hard to tell if he was doing good or evil, and sometimes he even felt selfish.

By contrast, siblings Josiri and Calenne didn’t seem quite so interesting. While I had hoped they would be front and center as well since it’s Josiri’s people and land that needed both saving from the Hadari and the rest of the Tressian Republic, their causes and personalities felt very bland and one note in comparison to Viktor. I did like that they were quite consistent in their characterizations, but they just felt kind of boring.

The other characters fell into one of two groups: thoroughly compelling and complex, or rather bland and present for certain purposes. It was an interesting mix of the two, so it made the story both interesting and forward moving. In general, I quite enjoyed the characters. They made the story lively and interesting. Even when I had an idea of where a character would end up both in literal and figurative senses, it was still fun to read about them and their journeys.

The Setting: Traditionally Fantastic

Of all the elements in this book, the setting was probably the most lackluster. It was predictably Eurocentric, which was comfortable, but not exactly earth shattering in terms of something new. I did appreciate that the Hadari Empire was something different, but still didn’t feel completely new or even that different from the Tressian Republic. Still, it possessed its own magic and intrigue, while also being reliably comfortable.

When I think back on the story, the setting is not something that jumps out at me as being particularly interesting, but I found the world building in general to be more intriguing. The Tressian Republic and Hadari Empire had their own customs, rituals, governances, and worship of gods. They were clearly defined and detailed just enough to provide background and detail, but not enough to be overwhelming and full of irrelevant pieces.

Despite the fact that the Eurocentric world was familiar, I found it oddly comforting. No, it didn’t really provide anything truly new and different, but I liked that it was a familiar backdrop, so my mind easily filled in any gaps and let me better enjoy the story.

The Plot: Complex, but Complete

The story of old enemies becoming allies was both slow and full of action. This is quite a long book at over 700 pages. There’s a great deal of court intrigue and the following of minor characters who end up playing much larger roles, which makes it seem slow. At the same time, there’s so much happening, both in terms of the intrigue and actual physical battles, that there always seemed to be more than enough action. The story never felt like it lagged, but was instead always going forward, just not always at a gallop.

I must admit there was a point where I was afraid too many threads and events were being added that none of it would reach a satisfactory conclusion, if at all. It also felt like some characters were followed for an inordinate amount of time while others kind of fell off the face of the earth for a long time. I was also afraid the ending would be rushed or left on a terrible cliffhanger. Instead, it worked out brilliantly, both wrapping up the story with a nice bow while also leaving room for the reader to want to pick up the next book if they’re so inclined. I quite enjoy series where the first book is meant to be both a standalone and as the start of a series. I’m not a fan of being left on the edge of my seat. I prefer neat endings that tie up all the major threads to any given story while also leaving room for an expansion on the story. Legacy of Ash did exactly that for me, and I absolutely loved it.

There was a fair amount of violence in this book, but, considering it involved rebels, conniving councilors, and invaders, it wasn’t unexpected. I was a little taken aback by how long the sequences were, but was satisfied when it felt like every scene was full of important information that moved the story forward. As much as I couldn’t always stomach the violence, I didn’t feel any sword slash was unnecessary.

The story was dark and full of intrigue. I felt like I wanted to keep reading to find out what happened next. At the same time, I also just had to put it aside because there is a ton of information given and just about all of it was necessary, so I did have to stop reading just to be able to process it. This was not the kind of book I could just keep consuming; there were times I simply had to pull back in order to fully appreciate and understand the story and the direction things were going.

Overall: Contradictory, but Satisfying

This was a lovely, satisfactory fantasy read. As a lover of long fantasy, this book felt completely familiar while also providing an intriguing story and even more intriguing cast of characters. I feel like there’s a fair bit of contradiction in how I feel about it, with characters that were both interesting and lackluster and a story that was both slow and full of action. Though I suppose it could also just be due to the sheer length. Still, it was a lovely read with people I came to have strong feelings about and a story that was well-wrapped up while also opening the door to a (probably horrifying) broader story.

How many cups of tea will you need?

4 cups should do

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Thank you so much to Angela Man from Orbit for the opportunity to read an e-ARC. All opinions expressed are my own.

Check out more of my book reviews, or stop and enjoy my review of another book written by a different Matt(hew) Ward. The fact that they are posting on the same day is a complete coincidence. Though, what a neat coincidence!

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