Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham
Orbit Books, pb, £18.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Kithamar has always stood. A centre of trade and wealth, it has developed over time from a fortress protecting the Hansch kingdom from the nomadic Inlisc or the start of an invading force of Hansch, depending on who you listen to. The city is constantly rumbling with disquiet among its residents based on race and status, but the death of the old prince Ausai has caused deeper tensions to come to the surface. Something is wrong in the city of Kithamar.
Alys doesn’t care about that, though. All she cares about is the murder of her brother, Darro, and bringing his murderers to justice. But investigating his death will take Alys too close to the centre of the intrigue and tension, and if she isn’t careful, she will end up like her brother.
Age of Ash is the start of a new trilogy by Daniel Abraham, one-half of the creative minds behind The Expanse,which I loved, but this was the first time I had read any of his fantasy. The writing style is quite lyrical, moving along at a decent pace and creating a city so full of quirks and personality that Kithamar feels like a character in its own right. We start with an auspicious moment, the funeral of Prince Byrn a Sal who ruled for one year after the death of Prince Ausai and died unexpectedly; then we go back a year to the start of Byrn’s reign to uncover the events leading up to his death. This is a fantastic start, and I was immediately hooked.
The story sits predominantly in Longhill, which is mainly inhabited by Inlisc, who are the lowest of the low, living in slums in pickpocket gangs who prey on the wealthier residents in other parts of the city. Those who have a trade are better off, but there is very little in the way of upward social movement. Everyone knows everyone else’s business, but you can’t trust anyone. This is the only life Alys has ever known, and it has made her quite a hard, independent character. To be honest, I didn’t particularly like her, but I could empathise with her, as without a close family or group of friends, she struggles with her overwhelming grief at the loss of her brother. Her character arc is very satisfying, with more potential for growth as the trilogy continues if she remains a main character.
The character I loved the most was Sammish, Alys’s sole true friend. Sammish is trying to live a decent life. She does run cons with Alys and a few others, but she also holds down four jobs to pay for her room in a baker’s. She is in love with Alys, which is not reciprocated, but this doesn’t turn her into a mindless follower, and when Alys starts going off the rails a bit, Sammish doesn’t follow her or encourage her; she chooses her own path not based on grief but on what she believes is right. It is through Sammish that we understand what is going on in the heart of Kithamar and why it is such a dangerous place for the prince and his blood family.
I loved the politics and intrigue of Age of Ash, how religion and beliefs are woven into the lives of the city’s inhabitants, and the power struggles between the different classes. Although we have some answers to why Byrn a Sal died, there are many more questions, and I can’t wait to start book 2, Blade of Dream to find out more.