Official SPFBO Rating: 6.5/10
Overview (No Spoilers):
We Men of Ash and Shadow follows two individuals who exhibit the unique power of remaining relatively invisible to those around them. Utilizing this talent, John Vanguard has made the choice to become a vigilante of sorts, scouring the city of evil, albeit through sanctioned hits. Before finding Vanguard, Tarryn was lost, in a failing aristocratic family, with his whole existence bent on caring for his mother and struggling to understand his urges. Both characters have dark tendencies that only seem to be sated through murder, which feels reminiscent of the tv show Dexter. I always find this concept of rooting for the main character who is unequivocally a bad guy due to murdering people (even if the aforementioned individuals are evil themselves) disconcerting but also refreshing in its break from conformity. Regardless, evil in shades of gray is definitely a theme in We Men of Ash and Shadow.
The characters presented throughout this story are heartbreaking to say the least. Almost all of them have a backstory swathed in sorrow and blood, providing fertile ground for pessimism and an overall jaded demeanor. These characters are so prickly that it is hard to connect with almost all of them, except for sweet Paulette and hopeful Carmen.
We Men of Ash and Shadow is by no means a feel good story, as each character is mired in their own misery. There is no glimmer of hope even hinted at in this story, with each chapter leading us further down a path of destruction, especially in the last half of the book where Tinsley masterfully ups the stakes while keeping the reader from becoming numb to the seemingly countless brutal deaths. That said, the middle of We Men of Ash and Shadow almost had a short story feel with each chapter being roughly focused on a new target for Vanguard. Though when the story then takes on a life of its own, I almost wanted the monster put back in the cage with all the brutal destruction that ensued.
Overall, We Men of Ash and Shadow is a well-written story that focuses on the various shades of evil and misery in a city teeming with rebellion and tension.
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- John Vanguard’s failed assassination attempt on Sanquain was sloppy and rushed. Why would he have not been more patient or taken Tarryn out of the action? I don’t think it would have helped Tarryn since he never took the blame for anything but what would have happened had Vanguard been more open with him?
- I was trying to come up with one good thing that happened in this story and the first thing that came to mind was: “Well, at least the ginger cat survives.”
- Was Vanguard complacent with his powers? Could he have learned something from Tarryn regarding disappearing even more?
- Who will be able to out maneuver Sanquain? Who is the mole in Argent Cooke’s camp?
- I was surprised to find that I was enjoying Sanderson, though just as soon as we began to appreciate his hidden depths he was unexpectedly taken off the board.
- Does Vince survive? Will Carmen and Kosic become an item?
- I found Mandego to be a fascinating character who was seemingly only touched on in We Men of Ash and Shadow. I did enjoy how all the factions of the city came together for one climatic battle against Sanquain in the end.
- Poor, poor Paulette. She was one of the few likable characters, though her death by Tarryn was building from the moment they met. The twist that the new housekeeper set up Paulette added depth to Sanquain’s tool that was not initially apparent.