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Ashael Rising (Vessel of KalaDene #1) by Shona Kinsella from @Kristell_Ink

Ashael Rising (Vessel of KalaDene #1) by Shona Kinsella

Kristell Ink, HB, £19.99

Reviewed by Sarah Deeming

The front cover for Ashael Rising. The front cover is of the life force being leached from plant life leaving a dried barren space.

Ashael is apprenticed to her tribe’s healer and spiritual leader. Her life is filled with caring for her people and learning all she can to take over from Bhearra at the right time. When Iwan, a traveller from another tribe, joins hers for the winter, Ashael believes there is space in her life for romance too. But Iwan is not who he seems. He is a spy from the Zanthar, invaders from another world who survive by stealing the life force of other beings. They’re searching for The Vessel, who is said to hold the lifeforce of KalaDene, Ashael’s planet. Iwan is a descendant of the slaves the Zanthar took when they last tried to take over KalaDene, and his mother is held as a hostage to ensure his obedience. Iwan must deliver Ashael to the Zanthar, or his mother will be killed. But can he hand over the woman he loves?

Ashael Rising focuses on Ashael, a young woman in a hunter-gatherer society with reverent respect for nature. The details of the tribe’s daily lives, the herbs used for medicine and cooking, and the stories they share of living within nature reflect Shona’s own love of nature. One look at her social media pages and the pictures she shares of her beautiful surroundings show you where she finds her inspiration. As someone who shares that love of nature and has a strong sense of stewardship of our world, I related straight away with the characters.

The characters within Ashael’s tribe each have a function, but they are more than their role. Well-rounded and three-dimensional, Shona’s characters are as strong as her world-building. My favourite character was Bhearra, Ashael’s mentor. Shona gives us a strong, independent older woman, who doesn’t have all the answers, is willing to ask for help when needed and is not afraid of getting her hands dirty. In a genre filled with leading young women, Bhearra gives us a realistic alternative.

The story has two threads. The first is Ashael’s development from a young healer to The Vessel, full of KalaDene’s life force which she freely uses to help others at a significant cost to herself. The second is the Zanthar, Daven and Meegrum, lord and right hand, searching for Ashael. Their position in KalaDene is fraught. If they’ve already failed to secure KalaDene’s life force and their king will not accept a second failure. Seeing both sides heightens the tension when we see the blossoming relationship between Ashael and Iwan, knowing that, eventually, she will find out who he is.

Overall, Ashael Rising is a confident start to this trilogy, and I will be on the hunt for the other books.

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