What do you do when the end of the world is at hand and not even a god can help you any more?
Before the Corruption came, Murrin Kentle lived in a world where the largest island could be walked across in a day, and humans traded and fished in bladeships made from the bones of the gigantic and bizarre sea monsters patrolling its stormy, bottomless oceans. As a truthkeep of the Brotherhood of the First Mind, it’s been his duty to fight the decay of knowledge with religious fervour. A fervour he’s increasingly struggled to maintain.
Before the Corruption came, Sheehan hahe Seeheeli was a carefree countess of the Shi’iin. Amphibious and matriarchal, her people have maintained an uneasy coexistence with the human scholars dominating the islands. Then an emissary of the gods brings news of an impending catastrophe. Now, she and Murrin must embark on a desperate voyage in the hope of salvation, although both the subject of their search and the path they must take remain stubbornly obscure.
Before the Corruption came, a wild young man named Coll grew up in a desert town, consumed by rage over what was done to his mother. His thirst for retribution will set in motion a train of events not even the gods could fully have foretold.
Now the Corruption is here, and nothing in Murrin’s world, nor any of the worlds of the Sundered Realm, will ever be the same.
About the Book
A Time of Ashes
by Ru Pringle
Fate and the Wheel Book One
SciFi & Fantasy
June 21, 2018
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The worlds-building in this novel was incredible (that’s not a typo, and hopefully not a spoiler, either). Ru Pringle managed to create not just a compelling world, but multiple species within it. Homollon in particular was unique, and the Shi’iin were fully realised. I enjoyed the way the different senses and capabilities of the Shi’in were never forgotten about, and were used at times to build tension and flesh out the novel’s setting.
A myriad of cultures was presented, and the way the threat driving the plot was explored while world-building and revealing character motivation and back story was very impressive. It reminded me of classic Anne McCaffrey, with hints of Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series.
Characterisation is another strength of A Time of Ashes; archetypes are definitely present, but done right. Characters are enriched by their similarity to universal figures, rather than reduced to them. Murrin could easily have been a mentor/wiseman, but instead he’s a flawed, three-dimensional character that you don’t always agree with but usually have sympathy for.
Coll was by far my favourite character in the book, his typical hero’s backstory and anything-but-typical response to it was one of the most enjoyable parts of the novel for me (and his partnership with Homollon is something I hope will be explored in greater depth in further books). Oliént cannot be overlooked when we’re discussing characterisation. The man undoubtedly has the potential to be a marvellous and epic villain, and his characterisation and storyline (complete with an amoral, hyper-competent advisor) remind me a little of the God-king Brent Weeks’ Way of Shadows series, and even a little of Vetinari from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.
The character list in this book is large, there’s no getting around that. A number of interesting characters left before my interest in them had diminished (I liked Tolin, and Nirite deserved more page time!), but given the already lengthy nature of the book, it’s understandable. Other characters (like Oliént) were introduced at an unusually late stage of the story, though this may have been why he was immediately interesting. No one insignificant gets introduced two-thirds of the way through a novel.
My main criticism of A Time of Ashes is that the book seems a little rough around the edges. It’s good,—I would absolutely read the next book in the series—but overall it seems like the focus was more on writing a good beginning to a series than writing a good book in its own right. The beginning of the book feels a bit spoon fed, the characters are told what’s happening and what to do, relationships are explained in as many words, and plot hasn’t had enough time to catch up with the world-building. A lot of characters and concepts are introduced, without much context about why the reader should care. Readers of high fantasy or classic sci-fi will know to power through, but it could be enough to make a more casual fan of the genre/s lose interest.
There are actually a few moments where the book seems to be more a patched together collection of scenes than a coherent story—Coll’s confrontation with Soren and then off-page resolution with him being the most jarring of these. A Time of Ashes also seems to repeat plot devices a bit. That’s fine, most authors have preferred ways of exploring or resolving conflict. In this book, though, the incidents occur too closely to seem meaningful, and it makes the action (which is well written and engrossing) seem predictable. For example: a group of characters is in a seemingly hopeless situation, it drags on, uncertainty creeps in, and then—a glimmer of hope in the darkness! A slim opportunity for safety is glimpsed, the characters strive for it, everyone thinks they’re going to die, but by the skin of their teeth, they manage to survive.
A standard situation in fiction, granted, but when it happens to three separate groups of characters back to back, it seems trite. Again, the writing was great, all three scenarios were compelling writing—their placement so close together in the novel is what made the action seem played out. The ‘scary’ reveal at the end of the book (presumably a hook to make sure you read the next book) also lacked impact, as the development was hinted at so heavily earlier in the novel. The penultimate section, with an almost-cliff-hanger ending about the safety of a main character would make a fair more suitable ending.
Those issues are minor, however, and don’t really impact A Time of Ashes’s readability or my enjoyment of it. My only real complaint about the book is the way a character who was explicitly stated to be the equivalent of a fifteen-year-old girl was repeatedly put in sexual situations. It’s creepy and could easily have been avoided. She could still be young and foolishly bold without also being ‘jailbait’. The whole situation was off-putting, and is probably one of the reasons I took so long to get invested in the book. The character herself discusses her behaviour at one point and has believable, age-appropriate motivations for them, but the situation is still one I wish hadn’t been included in the book.
Overall, A Time of Ashes was an interesting read that any fans of classic sci-fi or fantasy will enjoy. The world-building is on par with the best I’ve read, and the characters are familiar without being any less unique or compelling. If you’re looking for an engrossing read that will make you want to read the next book in the series before the New Year, look no further.
The review copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. All titles reviewed on this blog are a fair and honest assessment of the book. No monetary compensation was received in exchange for this review. For more information regarding our review process, please visit our Review Policy & Review Request Submission page.
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