From Cold Ashes Risen by Rob J. Hayes (The War Eternal #3) – Book Review
Genre: Dark fantasy.
Pages: Loads, not too many.
Review Copy: Provided by the author.
If I’ve learned something from Rob J. Hayes over the three novels in his War Eternal series, it is this: that creature of shadow and nightmare wrapped around the core of who you are? It was your best friend all along.
From Cold Ashes Risen is the conclusion of Eskara Helsene’s story (for now). A better one, I couldn’t have hoped for—Eska proves herself one of the most satisfying villainous protagonists I’ve come across, thick-headed and uncompromising, violent and resolute. Her connection with Ssserakis continues to be centre-stage; the nightmare is Eskara’s ace in the hole, her trump card and her constant companion. The extension of that bond throughout Cold Ashes will bring any emotionally engaged reader great satisfaction.
The imagination Rob J. Hayes shows does not fail to impress. I’ve written elsewhere about the delightful way in which Source magic works; Hayes has continued to build on top of the solid foundation he set up in Along the Razor’s Edge, expanding and adding layer after layer of complexity. The summoning of demons through Impomancy, for example, is a process both graphic and painful (and pretty disgusting, too): every demonic entity passes through the Sourcerer’s body in some way—through cuts, through vomiting up a fast-growing monstrosity, even through a horrifying belch. Gut-wrenching stuff!
It doesn’t end at the magic, either. The worldbuilding is an inspiration—there’s much that is familiar to it but twisted in thrilling ways; and even more that is fresh and exciting to dive into. Anytime the book expanded on the Djinn and Rand, the god-like immortal entities of the world, I couldn’t look away.
Let’s return to my earlier example: reading about how Impomancy works, I was itching to start working on a D&D Summoner or Demonologist class that makes use of this very unique and visual magic—I was immediately thinking about what the mechanics of that would look like in the game. It’s not that Ashes Risen draws you just to read. It inspires you to participate, to enter into a dialogue with its rich ideas.
It’s not the worldbuilding alone. Some of the lines Rob has penned struck so deep, I wanted to do nothing so much as show them off to my friends, to the world at large. Here’s one:
The Iron Legion Shook his head. “There is no reasoning with you.” It is the last recourse of those with no reason to accuse others of being beyond it.”
Such words strike to the heart of things well beyond the fantastic, don’t they?
There’s elegance to the prose, to the reflexive, rhetorical quality to it. At the early onset of the second book, The Lessons Never Learned, that inward examination was almost wearying—but Hayes has evaded that trap this time, in part because of the sheer ground he covers but also because Eska’s supporting cast draws her out in more challenging ways than ever before. Her allies were always an intriguing bunch, but her foes have never been more challenging, never more loathsome, never more personal. Conflict is near constant past the opening first act, and the character work that comes with it, both for Eska and her friends (Hardt, Horrelain, Imiko, Biokid), is riveting.
The War Eternal has shaped up to be my favourite fantasy trilogy of the year—I can’t think of a more consistent close to a series I’ve read in 2020 than From Cold Ashes Risen. Rob J. Hayes has outdone himself with perhaps the darkest fantasy novel he’s written to date; in some ways, it’s the most hopeful, too, and the one that sees a character of his grow the most.
My advice? Treat yourself to this exemplary trilogy. You shan’t regret it.