The Throne of Ice and Ash by J.D.L. Rosell

SPFBO Status: Semifinalist 

Medium: ebook (418 pages in print)

Overview (No Spoilers): 

As the youngest child of Oakharrow’s clan chief, scholarly Bjorn struggles to find his place among his warrior brothers. His only sister, Aelthena encounters her own struggles by constantly pushing against the limits society has placed on her ambition due to her gender. These two siblings are equally unhappy with their lot in life until a tragedy forces them to immediately assume unexpected mantles. In the aftermath of the destruction, still reeling from shock and grief, Althena and Bjorn scramble to identify friend from foe as an unknown enemy, out of myth, plots in the shadows. To maintain their family’s grasp on power, Bjorn finds himself pulled into a dangerous quest and Aelthena is granted her wildest wishes, but finds she might be way over her head. Will they both find their way in time to realize their dreams, all while saving their family’s hold on the throne? 

Rossell starts out The Throne of Ice and Fire with a bang, literally. Just as he finishes establishing the main characters and their motivations, everything is thrown into disarray, leaving the remaining characters to adapt and grieve as the situation continues to evolve. This effect makes it feel as though the characters are pulled along on a preordained path instead of making their own decisions. I had a hard time connecting with both Aelthena and Bjorn as they both would get repeatedly caught up in their own insecurities or ambitions. For example, Bjorn agonizes over his inhibitions as a coward over twenty times throughout The Throne of Ice and Ash. That said, I loved the quest that Bjorn found himself embarking upon with his motley band of warriors. This adventure and the trials encountered really seemed to push Bjorn and force him to mature into the leader he was meant to be. Additionally, the cast that accompanied Bjorn had a wide range of personalities and often interjected humor into dire situations. On the other hand, Aelthena struggled to wield her new mantle of power, something she’s always dreamed of, but is experiencing her own growing pains that were sometimes equally as difficult for the reader. She seemed to flounder with this opportunity due to refusing to trust anyone, not listening to people with experience, and making rash, impulsive decisions. Rosell captured the flawed characters, detailing their constant struggles to resolve who they want to be with who they are expected to be, while also emphasizing how little decisions along the way can lead to disaster. 

Overall, The Throne of Ice and Ash follows two siblings as they navigate the dangerous political aftermath of a devastating event, all the while wrestling with their own insecurities. 

Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound): 

  • Lord Ragnar was mentioned just briefly as an ally that Aelthena needed to gain the favor of. That he was the traitor plotting against the Jarl’s family was quite unexpected as he’d had no role as of yet. Why would he have sent his heir to do the dirty work in a city he was unfamiliar with? Why would his heir help Aelthena?
  • What did the young burned Sypten mean by “He sees all, and He is pleased.” What did the mob do to him?
  • Not finding the bodies of Annar, Yof, and their mother made the grieving a bit more difficult for both the characters and readers. I kept expecting them to pop back into the story.
  • What other properties does Harrowsteel have?
  • Was the saving of Skarl incidental? If not, then why was Skarl attacking Jotun?
  • I wanted to support Aelthena so much during this read, especially as an ambitious woman striving to break the molds that her society forces women to conform to, but I had such a hard time connecting with her and rooting for her. She hardly seemed to grieve for her family, instead thinking obsessively about this new opportunity for her to live her dreams. She was reckless, making snap decisions, and refused to take advice from people who fit the wise advisor roles. Her selfish actions gave no thought to consequences as she further destabilized her rule by insulting her allies and further inciting her enemies that could be allies.
  • Would Aelthena have stepped down if Bjorn had returned. Would Bjorn have even wanted to rule?
  • The attraction between Frey and Aelthena was a fun inclusion, however it seemed like the connection for Aelthena and Asborn was deeper and spread over years. It felt like the betrothed were going through a rough patch as they coped with their grief differently. 
  • Why would Asborn’s mother have stayed behind when the city was lost? It seems like a useless sacrifice and a waste of her knowledge.
  • Jotun’s army moved so fast! What took Bjorn’s group forever to traverse seemed to take only days for the army. What will happen to the people left behind in Oakharrow?
  • That epilogue was so curious! Was the man in the clouds a god?

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