Pillar of Ash

PILLAR OF ASH by H.M. Long.

Titan Books. p/b. £8.99.

Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.

Yske, daughter of the warrior priestess, Hessa, devotes her life to peace and healing. Under Aita, the Great Healer, she has learned much, though many do not agree with her pacifism, including her twin brother, Berin. Hessa’s mother had killed a Goddess, and it was Yske who saved her when the Iskiri Devoted came after her. That was the moment Yske had watched her mother kill a man and vowed never to do the same herself.

Arpa merchants saw something in the Unmade; Yske overhears as she spies on the meeting in the Hall of the Gods. The merchants have travelled far to bring that news, and Yske learns that Windwalkers have already set out for the borders in the north to investigate.

News is awaited, but Berin is determined to leave now, desperate for the glory of battle and triumph he has only heard of in tales from others. Aita tells Yske that Berin will not return from his journey. Her brother has not been given as many secrets of the High Halls as Yske, and so he leaves her no choice. The young woman must travel with him to keep him safe. Before she leaves, Aita grants her a gift that she cannot yet understand.

Pillar of Ash places Yske at the centre of its narrative, though the reader is still granted brief glimpses of Hessa – Long’s former and much-admired protagonist – through the eyes and experiences of her daughter and through those valuable interludes which have been core to the series.

The mysteries of the High Halls and the capabilities of the remaining gods are still kept at arm’s length by the reader and by Yske herself. We are aware that there are more magics, secrets and possibilities contained within them than we will see.

The key characters are fairly well mapped out, and plenty of page time is given to Yske’s internal dilemmas, as the journey endangers not only her relationships but also the very principles by which she lives. She is a likeable, if young and inexperienced character, and quickly finds herself out of depth and at odds with her travelling companions.

Yske’s tale is the final instalment in Long’s The Four Pillars series and the end does indeed feel like an end, though each previous book could also be hailed for providing a sense of completion and readying events to move forward in time. A satisfying, if almost too-brief, closing.

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