Age of Ash is the latest novel from author Daniel Abraham. Abraham has been nominated for both World Fantasy and Nebula awards and is a Hugo Award winner. He has an impressive backlist of science fiction and fantasy writing including as one half of the writing team behind the bestselling The Expanse series. He also writes as M. L. N. Hanover. I would like to thank Orbit for sending me a copy of Age of Ash to review, it has been a brilliant introduction to Abraham’s writing.
This is the first novel in Abraham’s new Kithamar Trilogy and is described as ‘a monumental epic fantasy’. Which is accurate, but as the action of Age of Ash takes place entirely within the city walls of the titular Kithamar it is not epic in a traditional traveling across a continent sort of way. Having said that, the city is vast with many districts described in vivid detail, each with their own particularities. Abraham’s prose is beautiful and the early chapters where he is building the city for the reader were a joy to read, almost like a printed version of the exploration phase of a vast computer game.
The protagonist of Age of Ash is Alys, a small time thief who lives in the slum area of the city, Longhill. After the murder of her brother Darro, Alys sets out to find out who killed him and why, and this journey of discovery is the main thread that we follow in the novel. There are other characters who play a part in this, the one of most note is Sammish. Originally a part of the same pick pocket crew as Alys, Sammish’s unrequited love for the main character is what draws her in to the conspiracies surrounding Darro’s death. Abraham’s characterisation of Alys and Sammish were probably my favourite parts of the novel. I may not always have liked their choices, but I understood the characters and really felt for them and what they went through. I also think that his portrayal of Alys’ grief and her mourning process was exceptionally well written, helping me to sympathise with her, especially when it is shown to impact her other relationships with characters like Sammish or Alys’ mother.
This is a great read if you enjoy a “slow burn” style of writing, and luxuriating in a delightfully written story that is character driven and utterly immersive. I liked it a lot, but I struggle to describe the plot and any events that I think are key action moments happen largely towards the end of the novel. As the first in a trilogy I think this will pay off in instalments two and three, but unfortunately I did find it a little too slow at times. Age of Ash is also not as gritty or dark as I expected it to be. Considering it takes place amongst the slums of a city, surrounded by crime, poverty, and violence, and one of the key plotlines is to uncover the cause of a brutal murder, I thought it would have a much darker feel. The power conspiracies and delicate magic of Kithamar are woven through the narrative but become more obvious in the last third of the novel with more time being spent with the antagonistic characters. However even they did not seem as villainous as I was expecting.
This is my first experience of reading Abraham’s work but I have been told that this methodical and steady style is typical. So if you are approaching Age of Ash armed with this knowledge and do not need a large cast of characters or numerous stand out moments of action in your fantasy fiction, I think you will thoroughly enjoy this first foray in to Kithamar. If you are looking for a more typical grimdark novel then this probably will not be one for you. For me, I am invested enough to want to return to the city and read the next part of the trilogy but I am hoping it moves at a slightly quicker pace in part two.