Last Updated on February 14, 2024
Pillar of Ash by H.M. Long is the fourth and final part of her The Four Pillars series. The novel is preceded in the series by Hall of Smoke and Bone, Temple of No God, and Barrow of Winter. Although Long has set these four novels in the same world, each has its own focus and main character. I would recommend reading the series in chronological order to understand Long’s vivid world entirely, but you probably would not need to reread them before starting Pillar of Ash to appreciate this novel in its own right. This is by no means essential; any relevant prior events are explained as part of Long’s prose and are then directly linked to the events of this particular narrative. In Pillar of Ash, Long nimbly links the longer plot threads from the previous three novels and concludes this epic fantasy series satisfactorily. If you have not already started The Four Pillars series, I recommend it especially if you are a fan of authors such as Rebecca Ross or Kell Woods or fancy an escape to a richly developed fantasy world safe in the knowledge that this arc is complete.
As with the other novels in this series, Long’s main character in Pillar of Ash is a woman. In this instance, we follow the journey of Yske, a healer from Eangen. Unlike the warrior women Hessa (Yske’s mother) and Thray (her cousin) whose stories we chartered in the earlier novels, Yske is a pacifist and a healer. This choice marks her as different from her people, and Yske is a sort of social outcast, not understood by any of her family or able to form proper friendships. She dedicates her life to her vocation and leads a largely solitary existence until her twin brother, Berin, decides upon a quest for glory and adventure. He asks her to join him and his group as their healer while they travel to the distant Eastern lands. This perilous journey will test Yske in ways she has never been before, both as a person and a healer. Eventually, she finds herself at the heart of something she never wished to be involved with – a battle where the stakes are higher than she could ever imagine.
I love Long’s writing style. It is vibrant and engaging without ever being dense or overwhelming. Each novel in The Four Pillars covers a different area of her vast world, so although some characters are familiar, nothing seems repetitive. Pillar of Ash simultaneously feels fresh because we are following a new protagonist and the ease of being in a world we know, even if the location for this novel is eerie and unsettling. However, of the three lead women in Long’s saga, Yske is the closest the reader gets to a damsel in distress, and at times I found her to be quite frustrating. Her pacifism is admirable, but on a journey littered with danger, it makes her a liability and risks those around her. Other characters shared my frustration, and for a time, Yske was more isolated than ever. Long never allows this frustration to fester and make Yske unlikeable, but I found her to be the least compelling of the novel leads in the series.
Pillar of Ash is a novel of adventure. There are some times of peace and some of the peril. Yske’s tentative romance does not overtake the plot or overshadow her relationships with her family and traveling companions. My favourite in the series remains the third novel, Barrow of Winter, but Pillar of Ash was an enjoyable read and a worthy conclusion to Long’s series. All the books from The Four Pillars Series are available from Titan Books. Thank you to both H.M. Long and the team at Titan Books for sending me an advanced reader copy of Pillar of Ash so I can provide this review.