Age of Ash is a fantastic new fantasy book from the co-author of The Expanse
Daniel Abraham may be best known these days for his work on The extentwhich he writes under the pseudonym James SA Corey alongside fellow author Ty Franck, but he also has many other books. He has completed two epic fantasy series to date: The Long Prize Quartet and The dagger and the coinas well as writes star wars tie-in novel, a series of urban fantasy books under the pen name MLN Hanover, various short stories, collaborations with George RR Martin, and far too many other works to list here.
The last book of Abraham, The Age of Ashesmarks his return to writing epic fantasy novels after his long and successful collaboration The extent. This is the first book in a new series called The Kithamar Trilogy, which explores fantasy in a way never seen before. We’ll tell you a bit about it, as well as why we loved this book so much below.
It’s a spoiler free review, so read on without worrying that the twists and turns of this book will be ruined. Trust us, you don’t want that.
The Age of Ashes exam
Some books beat you over the head with their awesomeness, pulling you through heart-pounding action scenes and constantly raising the stakes until you feel like you’re going to be pulling your hair out over the tension of the procedure. They almost read like tentpole movies; simple, direct prose if thrilling storylines, reveal that make you scream, “I knew that ! “, And so on.
The Age of Ashes is not one of those books.
Oh, it’s a fantastic book, well-written, expertly plotted, and filled with vivid settings and fleshed-out characters. With Daniel Abraham behind the wheel, this should all go without saying. But The Age of Ashes is a more subtle experience, slowly creeping into your brain until you can’t stop thinking about it. I finished this book weeks ago, but I still regularly find myself thinking about some of the most important plot points and wondering how much I fell in love with the central twist of the story. . The Age of Ashes don’t brazenly shout his awesomeness from the rooftops; it’s not necessary. Instead, it tells an extremely solid story that forces you to think about its themes and ideas. Ultimately, that makes this book unique even though a lot of things about it seem familiar.
A big part of that is the premise. The Age of Ashes takes place in the fantasy city of Kithamar, a bustling metropolis filled with thieves, politicians and deep social divisions. Unlike most other fantasy series, which are simply longer stories cut into multiple books, Kithamar takes a single turbulent year of upheaval in the city and then examines these events from different angles. The Age of Ashes is told primarily from the perspective of two thieves trying to survive their plight, but future books will explore these same events from very different angles. This allows the author to tell a complete story that encapsulates the main character arcs in a very satisfying way. Given that we know the next two books will more or less follow this complete story pattern, it seems likely that each book will be satisfying on its own, but also integrated into something bigger thanks to the mosaic nature of the series.
At first, the setting and tone of The Age of Ashes felt almost too familiar. The idea of a fantasy town where thieves run around attracting unsuspecting passers-by is something the genre has done before and done pretty well.…but that familiarity only exists to lull you into a false sense of security. Kithamar himself is a central part of the narrative – this should be obvious even from the structure of the story. But How? ‘Or’ What it becomes central is something that I feel safe saying would be very difficult to predict. There’s a certain twist that happens about halfway through the book, and once you hit it, it changes everything. Seemingly innocuous lines of description take on meaning; the lines between hero, villain, and something else become utterly blurred almost beyond recognition. Rarely have I read a book that has changed the game so profoundly in such an unexpected way.
Characters and theme in The Age of Ashes
The settings and premise are all good and beautiful, but what about the characters? As I mentioned, The Age of Ashes mainly follows a pair of thieves: Alys and Sammish. The triggering event that launches their story is that Alys’ brother is killed. Once she finds out he was involved in something far bigger and more dangerous than she imagined, she becomes convinced he was murdered and recruits Sammish to help unravel the mystery. .
I wasn’t as gripped by Alys herself as I expected; she is one of those protagonists who can be both enjoyable and frustrating, depending on where she is in her emotional arc. Sammish, on the other hand, totally surprised me. I found myself looking forward to its chapters. between them two, The Age of Ashes I felt pretty well balanced on the character front, though I will say I can’t wait to read about the character groups that will be central to subsequent entries in the series. This book seemed like just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the series’ larger narrative, and there were enough hints of where these other storylines might turn out that I only expected it improves from here.
Grief and the inability to move on are central themes in The Age of Ashes, largely conveyed by Alys’ struggle to cope with the death of her brother. Abraham deals with this realistically, exploring these emotions and the effects they can have on not just one person, but everyone around them. While no one really walks into a book thinking “yes, I’m going to read this for its thematic depth”, I think it’s worth mentioning that the thematic work is strong here. Being able to move on, to let the past rest, is explored not only through Alys, but in many other unexpected ways throughout the book. The result is that The Age of Ashes is a thought-provoking read, perhaps the most thematically cohesive book I’ve read since Joe Abercrombie Heroes.
If any of the things I said here scared you, that’s right. Not everyone enjoys reading books that explore compelling themes or feature complex story structures. But despite all these elements, The Age of Ashes remains a relatively accessible read that tells a complete and satisfying story, even if it leaves the door open for sequels. “I think a story should be as simple and straightforward as possible. But I also don’t think it should be any simpler than it can be,” Daniel Abraham told us in a recent maintenance. That hits the nail on the head for this book as far as I’m concerned.
The Age of Ashes is an easy to understand and follow book… but once you dive below its surface, there is much more to it than meets the eye. Like Kithamar.
The Age of Ashes is a story of heartbreak and love and how struggle can force us to go places we never expected, told with the precision we expect from Daniel Abraham. When you take into account the unique structure of the series and the absolutely breathtaking way the twists and turns of the novel frame everything, this becomes the kind of story that will stick with you and force you to remember it. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and will be looking forward to the next entry in The Kithamar Trilogy as soon as it falls.
The Age of Ashes is available now from Orbit Books.