Are you looking for your next new Epic Fantasy read? Well, look no further. Legacy of Ash may be this year’s top nod to fans of the sub-genre.
“In this action-packed epic fantasy debut, three heroes scarred by old hatreds must find a way to overcome their pasts if they are to have any chance of saving their crumbling Republic from complete destruction. Perfect for fans of George R. R. Martin, Brent Weeks, and Brandon Sanderson.
A shadow has fallen over the Tressian Republic.
While the armies of the Hadari Empire invade the borderlands, the Republic’s noble families plot against each other, divided by personal ambition.
But as Tressia falls, heroes rise.
Viktor Akadra is the Republic’s champion and conqueror of the rebellious south. A warrior without equal, he also hides a secret that would see him burned as a heretic.
Josiri Trelan would gladly see Viktor condemned to the flames – vengeance for a rebellion crushed and a mother slain. And while Josiri plots fresh insurrection, his sister, Calenne, is determined to escape their tarnished legacy and break the shackles of the past.
As dark days beckon, these three must overcome their differences to save the Republic. Yet decades of bad blood are not easily set aside. Victory – if it comes at all – will command a higher price than they could have imagined.” – Goodreads blurb
OK…where to begin? As with any epic fantasy there’s so much going on with this book. For some readers epic fantasy isn’t a favorite. I get that. If that’s true for you then you may not like this book especially as it comes in at nearly 800 pages. That’s a lot of reading. But if you LOVE epic fantasy, and 700+ pages doesn’t daunt you, then read on good reader and let me tell you about a book that you must get your hands on.
(note: I finished this book back in February and should have written this sooner…but I took notes so hopefully I don’t miss anything important.)
Legacy of Ash has a lot going on. The blurb above makes it sound pretty straight forward. But it isn’t. Yeah it’s a story about two warring nations and a conquered land and people caught between the two. But there’s a whole lot more going on. There’s a depth to the plot that surprised me, the characters are multi-dimensional and flawed, the world building is fantastic, and there are themes being explored that encompass all of it.
I have to be careful here because I don’t want to give anything away. While much of the book is spent exploring what the blurb describes, there is so much more! There are machinations and political intrigue within the Tressian leadership and within the court of the invading Hadari. Elements within both camps have other schemes afoot and they are revealed slowly throughout the narrative. Then there’s the people of the Southshires who though they wan’t to throw off the hand of their oppressor aren’t as unified as one might expect.
Within that framework there’s a whole history being explored. That history repeatedly impacts the present narrative in unexpected ways. Religion (or at least the gods) and myth play an important part in the story as well, both as part of the historical backdrop, and increasingly as an influencing force on the present. The historical, divine, and mythical elements really come to the fore as the story develops until all of a sudden you realize there’s a whole other narrative being told right alongside the one you thought you were reading. Add to that a number of unexpected twists and turns, and an occasional shift in direction, and all of a sudden the book is something more than it let on. Everything is woven deftly together and culminates in an explosive finish.
First let me say there are a lot. It’s an epic fantasy after all. You have the three main characters noted above and many, many, secondary ones. A few of those secondary ones should maybe be considered as main characters given their influence and impact on the story. I won’t spend any time going over each one, that would just take too long. Suffice it to say the POV characters are all complex, all multi-dimensional, and all flawed to some extent or other.
There are also a number of fantastic secondary characters. My favorite was probably Anastasia, a mysterious young woman who…let’s just say has a whole lot more going on than meets the eye. She was a fav of mine early on and as her story evolved that opinion was just strengthened. Hers is an example of many of the characters where layers are peeled back throughout the book to reveal more complexity and depth.
Their stories are told through multiple points of view. I didn’t keep track of how many POV characters there were, but there were a bunch. And they were not just told from the viewpoint of the protagonists. If you hate the multi-POV format you probably won’t like this, but I really enjoyed it because of how it fleshed out the characters and the story. This format added to the depth of the book as well as character development and background.
If there’s one thing I love about good epic fantasy it’s the world building, and Legacy of Ash is no exception. I’ve already hinted at some of this when I mentioned the plot above. But there’s so much more.
At it’s most basic level this is a story about a brewing war between the Tressian Republic and the Hadari Empire. But there’s the added complexity of the Southshires, a region ruled by Tressia whose people don’t particularly like their masters. With sedition simmering below the political surface of Tressian rule things are definitely complicated. These three lands have different histories, cultures, and desires for the future.
But there’s more. It turns out there’s trouble brewing within the capital itself. The political forces of the Tressian Republic aren’t unified and there are schemes and power plays left and right. The politics add to the world building and the narrative providing complexity, nuance, and depth.
There’s also magic and steampunk elements. The magic system isn’t fully explained in this installment. Much of it is bestowed by the gods…or believed to be. Much of it is dark and looked upon with superstition and fear. All of it is powerful and dangerous.
I was surprised to see the steampunkish elements. The Tressian Empire relies on various war machines to maintain their military superiority. There are great Kraikons which are huge robotic machines wading over the battlefield, and there are Simarka, lionlike machines also loosed upon the foe. They are built in factories by Tressia and maneuvered by special handlers with joystick like controls.
One of my favorite elements of world building was a faction within Tressia called the Crowmarket. A mysterious thieves guild with ties to the shadow world. Agents of the Crowmarket are bestowed with certain magical gifts that enable them to do some really sneaky, scary stuff and give them a deservedly sinister reputation.
Then there’s the history, myth, and the gods. I lump these together because, well, they go together. The narrative is anchored by these even if you don’t realize it at first. All that happens is influenced in one way or another by them. But what you are never really sure about is how much of the history is true, how much of the myth is real, and in what ways are the gods make-believe or not.
One of my favorite aspects of good fantasy are thematic elements that are woven into the story. Legacy of Ash has a number of these elements. Here are a few…
- The past: History becomes something of a theme in this book because of just how much it impacts the present narrative. Some of it is obvious and in your fact (the lot of the Southshires for instance) and some of it is not so obvious at first. But the past weighs heavily on the present and seemingly on the future in installments to come.
- Gods and myth: What I loved about this element was the way you are unsure through much of the book how much is real and how much is myth. The theological undertones are always present but as the narrative progresses they become more and more important.
- Right and wrong: Throughout the book there is a recurring question the reader encounters and that is who or what is right and wrong. By this I mean which side or faction is in the right? Is anyone?.
- Light and dark: One of the strongest thematic elements is the contrast between light and dark with darkness winning out much of the time.
Legacy of Ash’s underlying themes give it a complexity I really enjoyed. It is a story rooted in myth, history, and traditions being upended. You’re left wondering whether everyone is really one of the baddies in their own way. And it offers the call of the darkness against the light of the dawn with the characters trying to figure out what path to take. In the end it’s a story of the legacy of the past and how it shapes the future.
When I started this book I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve grown wary of giant tomes in recent years because they require such a time investment. If there was one thing I would have asked for that I didn’t get out of this book it would be some sort of punch in the gut. I didn’t get hit with the “feels” the way I hope to for many of my top reads, but let me say Legacy of Ash did not disappoint. While it didn’t make me weep or cry for joy like a well crafted character driven novel, it was exciting and a page turner. I finished it in half the time I normally take to read a book this size.
I was captivated and found myself bound up in this new fantasy world. A world wherein I get the sense only the surface has been scratched; A world in which many more secrets will be revealed; A story which has many more roads to be traveled, places to be explored, and characters to meet; A tale with many more twists and turns that will surely leave me guessing and wondering what comes next.
If you like really good epic fantasy put this one on your list today.
** I was sent an ARC of this book by the publisher.
5 of 5 Stars
Author: Matthew Ward
Series: Legacy Trilogy #1
Publication Date: April 7, 2020
Format: ARC Paperback