Burning Ashes by James Bennett

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Rating 8.5/10
Burning Ashes is steeped in lore, and hovers around in dream-like sequences and plays with the concept of reality.

There is truly a special place in my heart for James Bennett’s work. His debut novel for Orbit, Chasing Embers serves as my re-introduction to Fantasy fiction. In fact, it began my love affair with Grimdark, and particularly, the wave of UK based authors that have become prominent over the years.

The Ben Garston series is marketed as an Urban Fantasy. It’s suggested to fans of Kevin Hearne and Jim Butcher. Upon reading the first novel of the trilogy I realized this was quite a misleading comparison. Bennett’s story about a dragon with the ability to shift to humanoid form...the last of his kind, due to a pact that placed all but one of each remnant (mythical creature) in a long sleep or hibernation, is truly astounding literature. Ben’s suffering as an Everyman Jack Daniels-swigging hero is so profoundly described. His combination of apathy toward his own remnant kind, and toward humanity mixed with his desire to protect both is so beautifully and poetically rendered that despite much of the story being told in third person inner monologue, it’s impossible not to be drawn to this incredibly human, incredibly flawed draconic being.

In Burning Ashes, the long sleep has been reversed. Ben’s trickster former friend and confidant Von Hart, has caused an awakening of all mythological creatures, steeped in Arthurian Legend and a secret held in the legendary sword Caliburn, and it’s up to Ben to prevent all-out chaos, and war as monsters are unleashed upon humanity. 

Bennett has always known his way around a cinematic action sequence. His descriptions of Ben in flight are mesmerizing, but Burning Ashes places him against Wyverns, Manticores, and other creatures of mythology. He raises the stakes so high that I was actually able to hear the movie score in my head while reading

While Chasing Embers and Raising Fire were unique for featuring stories within the main story, Burning Ashes keeps it about Ben and his quest. Von Hart, the Fae envoy to the human world is a wonderful character of always questionable morals that is the perfect foil for Ben’s decrepit and lonely life. With his love gone, and having lost a close friend, Von Hart is his only confidant, and that no doubt leads to nothing but Chaos for Ben.

Much of the story takes place in London, but one particular section, in which Ben searches for Remnants that might help him on his mission takes him to Bennett’s spiritual home of Barcelona, and it’s clear from the stunning and nuanced description of the city, that the author is passionate about it. 

Burning Ashes is not an easy book. It is steeped in lore, it hovers around in dream-like sequences and plays with the concept of reality. Ben Garston is a trilogy, and must be read as such. Bennett doesn’t babysit the reader and offers minimal recapping of previous novels. Ben’s quest is brutal and uncompromising and James Bennett demands that we journey with him from the beginning. His prose shifts from the standard to the abstract poetic much like Rushdie and David Miller, and while the story is excellent, Bennett’s prose is a wonder to behold and the true star.

I’m quite disappointed that this will be the final instalment in Ben Garston’s saga but I anxiously await whatever comes next from one of the most brilliant voices in modern Fantasy Fiction.

Goodbye Benjurigan. May you have peace with a bottle of Jack and A new Queens of the Stoneage record.

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