A Quiet Beginning: Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham

Posted 5th February 2022 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 0 Comments

Age of Ash (Kithamar #1) by Daniel Abraham
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Sapphic MC
Published on: 15th February 2022
ISBN: 0316421847
Goodreads
four-half-stars

From New York Times bestselling and critically acclaimed author Daniel Abraham, co-author of The Expanse, comes a monumental epic fantasy trilogy that unfolds within the walls of a single great city, over the course of one tumultuous year, where every story matters, and the fate of the city is woven from them all.

“An atmospheric and fascinating tapestry, woven with skill and patience.” –Joe Abercrombie, New York Times bestselling author of A Little Hatred

Kithamar is a center of trade and wealth, an ancient city with a long, bloody history where countless thousands live and their stories unfold.

This is Alys's.

When her brother is murdered, a petty thief from the slums of Longhill sets out to discover who killed him and why.  But the more she discovers about him, the more she learns about herself, and the truths she finds are more dangerous than knives. 

Swept up in an intrigue as deep as the roots of Kithamar, where the secrets of the lowest born can sometimes topple thrones, the story Alys chooses will have the power to change everything.

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Highlights

~there are a lot of gods
~a magic knife
~a magic candle
~stale bread rolls
~never trust a rich tosser

You expect someone’s come-back to a genre – as Daniel Abraham is returning to Fantasy, after years exploring a far-future galaxy with The Expanse – to be big and loud and flashy. Trumpets, announcing the return of a king. You expect a splash.

Age of Ash is not like that. It is beautifully, perfectly named, because this book is soft and quiet as ashes settling after a conflagration. If you are not careful, if you do not look closely, you might think the flames have died – you might miss the embers gleaming like jewels, like eyes, amidst the cinders. You might not realise that one wrong move – one breath, one careless breeze – could fan those sparks into an inferno that could burn a city to the ground.

This is a quiet book. An intimate book. It runs through your fingers like silk, barely whispering. You have to lean in close to make out the words.

There’s a secret in the city that almost no one knows.

No.

Stop.

Again.

There’s a secret in the city that no one knows – those who think they know it are very, very wrong.

It’s hidden well. Buried deep. There’s no hint or sign of it anywhere, and a secret that leaves no ripples keeps things simple and undramatic. Age of Ash is slow and quiet and introspective – there are no swordfights in the streets, no cinematic heroes, no good vs evil. This is not a war.

But it is about who matters?

This is such a slow-burn novel that I can just about see how some readers might not stick around for the payoff, but Abraham’s prose is just so elegant, his worldbuilding so detailed, his characters so damn human, that I couldn’t put it down. Reading Age of Ash, you feel as though you’re walking Kithamar’s streets alongside Alys and Sammish; this city breathes, and the effect is to turn it into, not so much a place you believe in, as a place you know. Abraham has a gift for that.

It was only distance that made it beautiful.

But Alys and Sammish…oh, darlings. They’re two very different young women, and one of them’s in love with the other, and the other is dragged into a downward spiral by the riptide of grief. Grief is definitely a theme here; its different faces and flavours, and how different people ‘deal’ with it, respond to it. But Age of Ash never quite crosses the line into depressing, although I think it skirts that; both Alys and Sammish live hand-to-mouth, and Abraham doesn’t try to dress up poverty or make it palatable – but he doesn’t make it pitiable, either. He walks that tightrope deftly, managing not to turn their struggles into any kind of saintly martyrdom or turn them into some kind of misery-porn. It’s just life. Bare and unfair, but what can you do except keep putting one foot in front of the other?

And then Alys and Sammish get pulled into the very edges, the shallowest depths, of that central secret, and so much changes and so much doesn’t.

It was like seeing someone in a gilt mask shaped like a wolf, and then removing it to discover they’d been a panther all along.

I don’t know what to say about this book, how to describe it. What I’ve written is so vague it tells you almost nothing, and maybe that’s because, if you wrote out the plot points on paper, there aren’t very many of them. This isn’t an action-heavy book, and it’s not fast-paced. Most of what changes, almost all of it, is what’s inside the characters, not their surroundings, their city. This is a story about the underside of a weaving, the tangled knots and threads that almost no one can see, but that are fundamental to the tapestry. It’s about very, very normal, real people, and balancing the need for bread or a safe place to sleep with thwarting wicked schemes. It’s about drawing the line and saying enough: to those in power, to those who want power, to your friends. It’s about how people, not just cities and the rivers that run through them, can have hidden, unexpected depths in them, and no one can predict what will come out what those depths are tapped.

It’s about fighting back not because of ethics or ideology, but out of stubbornness and spite and fuck you is why. It’s about what the hell fighting even looks like, when you’re powerless and poor and have no idea where to start.

It’s about: how much can one person – one overlooked, sleeping-in-alleys person – make a difference?

A little. A lot. None.

All.

Something about wanting it that badly felt like a crime.

I loved it. If you’re willing to wait for the cinematic showdowns – if you can accept that this is just the opening move, not the endgame – I think you’ll love it too.

Age of Ash comes out on Feb 15. You’ve still got time to preorder!

four-half-stars

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