REVIEW: A Sword of Bronze and Ashes by Anna Smith Spark

Last Updated on March 8, 2024

Nobody writes fantasy like Anna Smith Spark. Nobody writes mothers and their families in fantasy like Anna Smith Spark. And nobody so consistently reaches into your chest with those themes and crushes your heart while the world around you burns and is soaked in blood like Anna Smith Spark. I knew within the first three chapters of A Sword of Bronze and Ashes that I was going to enjoy this book, and the author has once again–with her unique poetic literary fantasy–delivered an absolute experience.

Cover for A Sword of Bronze and Ashes by Anna Smith SparkIn A Sword of Bronze of Ashes Kanda’s beautiful life of loving husband, three children, lush farmland, cows who give milk that is almost all cream, is upended when a body floats down the river. Her husband and children look to her and she flees with them, a confrontation with three horrors revealing a secret she has held from them for a lifetime.

What follows is a high fantasy fever dream ride through emotional heartbreak (with the shards of your heart often then ground into the mud after), sweeping and picturesque and grotesque battles, and the breaking down and growth of Kanda as a woman and a mother.

A Sword of Bronze and Ashes is not grimdark book like we are accustomed to from the author, but Smith Spark’s first foray (that I’m aware of) into epic fantasy horror retains all the hallmarks of her beautiful storytelling ability. This book is a high fantasy that mixes Norse-style mythology storytelling when recounting stories of the Demi-god like Six in one storyline with beautiful personal action in the other as Kanda and her family flee their past and she reveals what she once was–and as a family they deal with the fallout. While I’m not much of a horror reader, A Sword of Bronze and Ashes also layers on a thick swathe of horror to make sure the darkness and fear that Smith Spark excels at delivering will keep her fans and new readers thoroughly hooked.

Smith Spark’s focus on the relationship between mother and child (mother and sons in A Woman of the Sword; and mother and daughters in A Sword of Bronze and Ashes) is really heart rending. She hits those key notes of love and rebellion and wanting impress and outdo our parents (who couldn’t possibly understand what we’re going through) so, so well. We’ve all been that child. Some of us have felt the wildly juxtaposed feelings of love and frustration as a parent, and thought some horrible thoughts about children at times. Smith Spark writes those thoughts and those feelings in a such a visceral way.

One of the things I always feel when I read a Smith Spark book is that there are so many layers of understanding and literary metaphor there for every reader. As a childless 38 year old male with relatively few struggles to face in life, I am going to take away something very different to a mother of three juggling her own person and needs with those of her children while trying to maintain her love for her husband. This is, in part the beauty of Smith Spark’s works–that you can probably revisit them over the years and have a wildly different experience.

A Sword of Bronze and Ashes by Anna Smith Spark is another gorgeous work. Peter McLean described it as “Heavy Metal Mythology” and I don’t think I could come up with a better description for where it sits within the fantasy world. I highly recommend you pick this book up.

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.