LEGACY OF ASH by Matthew Ward (Book Review)
‘[[Much can change in time,]] said Anastacia. [[Truth becomes hope, and hope becomes legend. What was wild becomes settled, and fear lives on as prejudice. People remember where history forgets.]]’
Legacy of Ash is the first instalment in the aptly titled Legacy Trilogy by Matthew Ward. This book is a tome to say the least; rounding up at 764 pages, this is one hell of an ambitious epic fantasy, and one that completely enchanted me.
To give a brief outline of the book is something of a challenge, as the narrative slowly builds up to become quite complex, but here I go anyway. The Tressian Republic strive to conquer their neighbouring lands; in the south a Phoenix has arisen to lead the people of the Southshires towards a battle for freedom. However, when the Phoenix is slain, hope dies with her, and all that’s left is a legacy of failure. We then move forward to fifteen years later, and the Prince of Hadari plots to set his army upon the lands of the Tressian Republic to further his rule and secure his seat on the Emperor’s throne. His eye is set upon the land of the Southshires, to the town of Eskavord. Josiri, and Calenne, the children of the infamous Phoenix, imprisoned within the walls of Branghall castle, must find a way to continue their mother’s quest for freedom and liberate the people of Eskavord, not only against the oncoming Hadari, but also breaking free from the Republic. With Josiri riddled with self doubt, and his sister Calenne desperate to rid herself of her mother’s memory, the task is not easy. Can Viktor, a soldier of the Republic, amend for his past deeds and offer salvation to the doomed Southshires? Can old wounds be buried and new alliances formed? This, folks, is our tale.
I’ll start by saying Legacy of Ash is the very embodiment of an epic fantasy. There is a quest for freedom, there are legendary knights, characters who can wield magic, ethereal beings, and there is the age-old war between light and dark, although this book does give a somewhat fresh perspective on that! I know this book has been compared to Game of Thrones (what fantasy book hasn’t these days?) but I find this misleading. This is not a dark and gritty book, and if I had to compare it to any other series, I would say it’s more akin to The Faithful and the Fallen by John Gwynne.
Through the beginning chapters the novel boldly introduces an immense amount of characters. Ward throws the reader right into the middle of events, with minimal backstory or world building, and it is left to us to slowly piece the puzzle together as we read on. Now normally I’d find this quite jarring, but that was not the case here. Ward’s writing style, his skill in creating likeable characters, his ability to keep you intrigued, was something that reeled me in and had me hooked. I particularly loved that there were multiple plots set up, as the depth of the story continuously impressed me.
I think it’s noteworthy to mention that we do switch POV between characters a lot, often in the same chapter, but these switches were separated by paragraphs so it never became confusing. However, if you’re inclined to be put off by this, I urge you not to, because I felt there was a fundamental purpose to this style. Each character is interconnected one way or another with each other’s narratives, for good or ill they impact each other’s lives, and therefore Ward deliberately positions each point of view to give the reader the best insight. There are many schemes, lies, misconceptions, and drama, OH THE DRAMA! I was utterly enthralled by it all. It felt like a show I was watching unfold, and I couldn’t help but feel caught in it. That’s when you know you’re reading a good book, right? When you suspend reality, and can’t help but feel a part of the story… it’s the best! But anyway, to further my point: this is a big novel, and Ward uses that expanse to flesh out the characters in fairly short scenes, and skilfully build upon their narratives. I would say that the first half of the book is a character driven story, one that explores the tenuous bonds between family, friends, and delves into the nature of legacies, and of forgiveness.
So, which characters did I like the best? How long have you got?! There are a lot to mention, so I’ll do my best to keep it short(ish). Josiri, was a character that often wallowed in self pity and bitterness, which made him infuriating to begin with, but as he became stronger, and was able to overcome his narrow mindedness, I began to adore him. His sister, Calenne, in her desperation to step out from behind her mother’s shadow any way she could, did come across as selfish, but you understand her reasons behind it, and I grew to really root for her. Now, Viktor Akadra was one I immediately LOVED. I mean Viktor had heart, he genuinely cared for others, and his only goal was to make amends for his past; but Viktor had a shadow… and I’ll leave it to you find out exactly what that shadow could do!
Other honourable mentions were; Anastacia, who held so much magical power, she was just plain awesome. Then there was Melanna, the prince of Hadari’s daughter, who wanted nothing more than to become a warrior to fight beside her father, even though tradition dictated women could not partake in warfare. Oh and my favourite duo were Kurkas and Revekeh; these two made the most unlikeliest friendship, but somehow they were both perfect for each other, and their banter together was the absolute best!! Lastly, I’ll mention Ebigail, one of the main villains of the story, and she was the most villainiest of villains indeed! Jeez, she was ruthless; the way she could manipulate situations to ensure her dominance and power, was both maddening but also well played! It’s a cliche, but I loved to hate her.
‘Viktor didn’t cheer the death. Eyes stinging with sweat, he saved every breath for the strength it lent weary arms and a flagging heart. There was only the press of bodies. The dead and the dying trampled underfoot. And the determination to outlast the foe.’
Now, as I mentioned before, the first half of Legacy of Ash is character driven, but after that point, my god there is one hell of a lot of tumult! Ward delivers some absolutely incredible action scenes, that made my battle loving, stabby stabby heart so happy! What I was most impressed by was the way Ward set up the characters like pieces on a chess board. He built the tension, the atmosphere, by strategically placing characters in various parts of the battlefield to ensure the reader gets a fully rounded perspective of the fighting from all sides, even the enemies’ line. A lot of fantasy books lately have opted to keep the magical/fantastical elements low key, whereas Ward goes all out and incorporates some awesome magical beings and creatures. Personally I appreciated this so much, because the fantastical is an element that is a huge part of the fantasy genre; the possibilities are endless, so why not celebrate that?! In Legacy of Ash, Ward created magical amulets which allowed magical and non magical users to control Simarkas, which were mechanical lions, and kraikons, which were mechanical giants. From the Hadari side we had grundas, which were like mechanical rhinos that charged their foe. We also had a goddess’ sword, dark magic, and a highly powered mystical malevolent being! Folks, this book was so freaking epic, oh and the ending, the very last page, left me SHOOK!
So there you have it, Legacy of Ash was a book that was simply right up my street. It felt like an old school fantasy, with characters that appeared real, and world building that revels in the fantastical. If this appeals to you, then what are you waiting for? Go grab a copy.
ARC provided by Orbit in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for this amazing copy!
Legacy of Ash is out now!