Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham

Rate: 3.5/5

Medium: Audiobook/ebook (ARC)

Overview (No Spoilers):

Last month I finished The Expanse, a series I’d read over the past couple of years, growing enamored of the universe and the wild adventure that James S. A. Corey had continually evolved with each subsequent installment. In my post-read hangover, I was looking to see what novels Corey had in the works, and I was rather chagrined to discover Corey was a pen name for the authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Furthermore, unbeknownst at the time, Abraham’s upcoming solo title, Age of Ash, had ended up on my most anticipated reads of 2022. Intrigued with my newfound insights as to the author’s previous works, I had even high anticipations for this new series, far removed from the space opera I’ve been used to. 

Age of Ash takes place in the city of Kithamar and follows several characters from royalty to the street urchins. The main focus falls on the thieves, Alys and Sammish, who quickly find themselves over their heads when a heist goes awry. This blunder sets off a sequence of events that leads to a personal tragedy for Alys and leaves all of Longhill reeling. In the wealthy district of Green Hill, another death opens a void for the ambitious to jockey for position. With turmoil roiling throughout Kithamar, Sammish and Alys paths diverge, though they both discover magic, intrigues, and schemes, with the line between good and evil becoming blurred through the haze of revenge and perspective.

Transitioning into Age of Ash was not a seamless process with the prologue occurring after the events of this novel, before chapter one rewound the clock. Additionally, characters were introduced and then not seen again for half of the novel, if at all, making their significance to early events strained. This confusing order of events caused me to reread the first couple of chapters again immediately after finishing the book, something I can’t recall ever doing before, with valuable insights standing out that had previously been easy to overlook. I felt like this formatting made Age of Ash harder than it should have been to acclimate into this fascinating world.

Initially, Alys is our main focus, as she struggles to determine who she wants to be, while shouldering crippling grief. She slowly loses sight of herself, one decision at a time, until the Alys we first met is unrecognizable. The reader isn’t the only one to notice Alys’ transition as her friend, Sammish, grows increasingly concerned with the widening gulf. Sammish, who exhibits the unique power to disappear in plain sight, experiences her own character growth from the painfully timid to quietly bold and confident. We are granted perspectives from quite a few other characters in varying degrees, however the most fascinating point of view was from Kithamar itself. I’m going to purposely keep my descriptions of this character vague to avoid any spoilers but it involves a twist that I was not anticipating. Kithamar has so many inherent implications and built in depth that has yet to be fully mined. Other perspectives pop up once, before never showing up again or getting tied back into the story, leaving a disconcerting feeling of loose ends that are yet to be resolved. Perhaps later installments of this series will bring these wayward characters back into the fold but their absence was unresolved.

The characters themselves were distinct, though their insecurities were often rehashed on a repeating loop. Their plights kept the reader on the edge of their seats, but I found I wasn’t necessarily invested in any of their fates, even Alys or Sammish. 

The pacing of Age of Ash is deliberate and methodical throughout, sputtering to life with every planned heist, before falling back into the established pattern. As a whole, I enjoyed the world and story, but this wasn’t a book that kept me glued or squeezing in one extra chapter before bedtime. It felt like I was more just passing the time with an entertaining journey. Again, not a bad description by any means, I just wasn’t hooked or emotionally invested in the outcome.

The ending itself seemed simultaneously open and closed where Age of Ash could feel like a stand alone, but with so many open questions left unanswered after the last dramatic and chaotic heist. 

Overall, Abraham has built a solid foundation in Age of Ash that will act as a springboard for the rest of the series with seemingly limitless potential as to where he could take this fascinating literary world.

Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):

  • How did Alys know that she could only go part way in the ceremony to talk to Darro instead of totally replacing him?
  • How will Elaine a Sal be able to be protected? Will she ever see her lover again? Who stole the knife in the first place?
  • Alys taking the place of Grey Linnet felt very fitting, though out of place from the lost girl we’d come to know throughout this novel. Out of all the people in the city, why did Andomaka see Grey Linnet’s death?
  • Having seen Darro through only Alys’ eyes this whole book, it was jarring to see the other side of him from their mother. 
  • What did Kithamar do after the knife was stolen? Did it look for Alys? What does this mean for its plans? As a part of the city, it seems like it wouldn’t be hard for it to find her. 
  • Couldn’t Kithamar make a new knife since they knew the second knife only broke because Byrn a Sal was a bastard?
  • Doesn’t Kithamar need Tregarro as backup for the next ceremony? What happens if Andomaka somehow dies before anyone knows the ceremony? Shouldn’t procreation be a major priority for Andomaka/Kithamar in order to secure a physical replacement?
  • What will Sammish’s life be like outside of Kithamar? Will she make a new life with Saffa? Can Sammish learn Saffa’s powers?
  • So many innocent people died because Saffa caused a plague. Why did she take it out on the poor people, instead of targeting the people who stole her child?
  • I didn’t expect Saffa’s child to be killed, which might have been the most surprising and least climatic aspect of the book. Why was Saffa not targeting her son instead of the knife?
  • The bluecloak, Tannen that chased Alys was another character who disappeared after even being given his own POV. What happened to him after Alys beat him up.
  • The prologue opens up as Byrn a Sal’s death. I feel like I need to reread that scene to see what I missed the first time around. 
  • Aunt Thorn didn’t play the role that I’d anticipated in Age of Ash after they served to be a hideout for Alys. 
  • Goro was another fascinating character whose depths are yet to be fully explored. Does Kithamar know Goro is there? What are his powers?
  • Ullin was a character who Alys had spent significant time with and had been built up before being unexpectedly eliminated. He feels like a character that was either under unitized or was extra fluff that wasn’t necessary. 

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