It's a jumble of unfinished potential
Sometimes, as a reviewer, the job of analysing a book and crafting a review is the simplest job in the world. The author has crafted a beautiful tale and written it wonderfully, fleshed out the characters beyond a two-dimensional stereotype, kept the pace upbeat without being hurried, and told a tale worth telling. Other times, the job is a little more difficult, when an author has told an interesting story, but it was not well written, or a story was well written, but it simply didn’t appeal to me.
Unfortunately – and doubly so when the author in question is fantasy royalty – there is the occasional instance when you read a book, and not only does it not appeal to you, but there are serious flaws with its writing as well.
Enter King of Ashes, the newest book from Raymond E. Feist, the start to an entirely new series of books following the end to his magnum-opus, ‘The Riftwar Cycle’, which started with one of the most popular fantasy books of the last few decades, Magician.
In the past, though I have not read everything Feist has written, I have nevertheless enjoyed what I did read. I thought that he had that same attitude to him that others like Terry Brooks, Robert Jordan, David Eddings, and Terry Goodkind had – those upstart Tolkien-shadows who, each in their own way, matured into decent writers of varying quality. I had come late to Feist’s work and, even though the books were there to read, I could never really stick beyond the first six or so.
So, when I heard that Feist was starting a new series I jumped at the chance to jump on board, and King of Ashes arrived on my doorstep in all its hardcover glory.
It was a hard read for me. I lost faith halfway through and had to slog through the second half of the book over a weekend to get it finished. There are glimmers of hope throughout the book, but it always seemed to take a turn that, by the end, left me feeling as if I had read a half-hearted fan-fiction that had never met an editor in its short life.
The characters were depressingly two-dimensional and the overarching story the epitome of convenient contrivance. By the end of the book I’m fairly certain everyone was related to everyone else or had at least arrived at the same location “by happenstance” – the author’s pen strokes blatantly obvious. While Declan’s story was at times intriguing, it was marred by overbearing contrivance and laziness, while Hatu’s story and his character development were simply abysmal. At some point towards the end of the book the narrator explains that Hatu was not prone to introspection – which made me laugh aloud, considering that the majority of his chapters were overburdened with his weirdly ignorant obsession with life around him and the author’s preternatural need to “tell” us everything instead of “showing” us anything.
Hatu represents one of the stupidest characters I have ever read – by which I mean, and I want to be clear, the character portrayed is stupid, unintelligent, ignorant, perpetually unaware of anything. I’ve met oblivious 17-year-olds before, but none come up to the level of Hatu, who seemed to be completely ignorant of everything that was happening to him or around him – right up until a point where something magical happens for no particular reason and apparently everything is fixed, which again only showed the heavy-handed intrusion of the author.
Declan was almost similarly ignorant of his world, but to a lesser degree that maybe it was done well, but in combination with Hatu just makes me squirm. Everything had to be told to the main characters and nothing was ever reasoned out or shown. By the end of the book you want to take the hardcover in your hands and smack the two of them around the head with it. Unfortunately, and for no apparent reason, nothing actually happens at the end of the book, except that – for the moment, at least – everyone goes off to live happily ever after with all the privileges and resources they need to live a comfortable life.
There was absolutely a kernel of something really intriguing here, and I wish that an editor had been able to come alongside Feist and help him develop it properly. The basic premise of the book, the world in which it is set, even some of the other characters – like Hava, Daylon, and Balven – are all really fascinating, and if woven with more care could have resulted in a really compelling story. As it stands, however, all we have is a first draft that should never have seen a dustjacket or bookshelf.
As a minor aside, as well, the book is littered with printing errors (I assume they are not grammatical errors because nobody can so regularly misspell “but” as “hut”) which, for me at least, were continually irritating – an unfortunate analogy of a book that seems not to have received the attention to detail necessary.
In the end, and with sadness, I simply can’t recommend King of Ashes. It’s a jumble of unfinished potential that, by the time you close the last page, drives you to despair and leaves you more irritated than intrigued.
Joshua S Hill, 4/10
I received an advance reader copy of King of Ashes in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Raymond E. Feist and Harper Voyager.
For many generations, the five great Kingdom's had enjoyed a time of peace and prosperity. Each realm had its own Monarch and the story begins with a great battle and the betrayal of Steveren Langene, the King of Ithrace. He is known as Firemane because of his bright red hair and his Kingdom was a place of arts, culture, and merriment. His former allies are looking to execute him, his family (not excluding the women and children), and leave his city and legacy in ashes. After the Firemane house's inevitable demise and when the conflict has concluded the powerful Baron Daylon Dumarch finds a mysterious young child in his war tent just before his army is about the return to his freehold of Marquensas. As a former close acquaintance of Firemane's, he believes that this baby is the last of the late King's children and has somehow escaped the rest of his families fate.
Following the prologue, King of Ashes picks up the action 16 years later. There approximately 5 point of view perspectives throughout the narrative; however, 90% of the tale follows two individuals. Hatu, a very angry and often confused fiery haired individual who has been training at a school for a hidden organisation known as the unseen army of Coaltachin. This school trains its members in many criminal activities including spying, robbery, and assassination. The second main perspective is that of Declan, a 22-year-old blacksmith who resides in a sleepy town in an area known as The Narrows. He's looking to progress to be the youngest ever Master Blacksmith. He is reminiscent of Gendry from Game of Thrones.
Feist has created a world that shows real quality and depth that's full to the brim with histories, different races and cults, many religions (although all but one is currently vilified), and political intrigue. My favourite aspect of the narrative was discovering more about Hatu and his two closest friends at the assassin school. Unlike some popular fantasy tales such as The Name of the Wind and A Wizard of Earthsea, most of the education provided to these students isn't classroom-based. It mainly consists of these apprentices being set tasks and objectives out in the streets under the watchful eye of Masters and criminal gang leaders to earn their skills and reputations. The cult is complex with certain codes of ethics and secret statements that say one thing but imply something completely different. These segments were an absolute joy to read.
Another major positive for Kings of Ashes is the well-realised amazing characters. It presents slow burning character development excellence. I really enjoyed reading about Baron Daylon Dumarch and his bastard half-brother whose, although seemingly decent individuals, we never really grasp and understand their motives throughout. King of Ashes is a pretty brilliant first step in what will no doubt be an excellent fantasy trilogy and it seems that only the mere surface of the depth and possibilities have been revealed so far. Especially with reference to magic. I don't like comparing novels to other big names in the genre as it's often a lazy shortcut or an easy sell for a blurb. On this occasion; however, I think King of Ashes deserves to be heralded in the current fantasy scene alongside heavyweights such as A Game of Thrones, The Name of the Wind, and The Lies of Locke Lamora and fans of those aforementioned works will find much to enjoy here. My only real issue is that this is obviously the first of a trilogy/series and it's not brilliant as a standalone tale. It doesn't conclude with a huge battle or insanely intense set-pieces. It sets future events up well though but as a potential reader, I'd say do not expect any real form of closure as the first book in The Firemane Saga concludes. That being said, I read the last 15% of the book very slowly making sure I took in every invigorating word as I truly didn't want King of Ashes to end. There are enough intriguing events at the book's climax and potential avenues the future story arcs could traverse that I will definitely be picking up book #2 as soon as I can. King of Ashes is Epic Fantasy written by one of the masters of the genre and mixes political intrigue, secret assassin cults, and a hidden heir to one of the Kingdoms, whilst always presenting excellent world-building and sublime character development.
James Tivendale, 8.2/10
David from Australia
As an old fan of REF, I found this book to be disappointing. Yes it drew me in and kept me reading but despite its potential it fell short on many levels. Character development was underwhelming and, as has been stated before, very two dimensional. Too much unnecessary reference and focus on sex, which could have been conveyed without the need for the crass and obvious descriptions. I had hope to introduce my eldest daughter to this sequel but no more. The plot and different characters all seamed to come together too conveniently and very predictably (i.e. Halfway through the book it was obvious). One has to wonder where has this author's subtle and creative skill at storytelling has gone? And or to what level it was vetted by a few select early readers/editors and in make their thinking visible for the story's great good...?
Jonn from Scotland
Polished off the 545 pages in 3 days while on holiday. Just as well as would probably have been going into work half asleep as could not put it down. Typical Fiest; nothing like the aftermath of a huge battle with thousands dead to grab your attention and draw you in and that’s just the prologue. The book has been used to build up the backgrounds of the main characters and the world they live in so that they can be developed in the narrative next two books. It’s very familiar to all Fiest fans old and new and very enjoyable. Two downsides: First i pre orderd my copy to be delivered on day of release so my copy was littered with spelling mistakes (has proof reading died to save costs) and second I’m going to have to wait (impatiently) for probably a year for the second book to get my next fix.
7/10 from 3 reviews