King of Ashes by Raymond E Feist

April 26, 2018

For centuries, the five greatest kingdoms of North and South Tembria, twin continents on the world of Garn, have coexisted in peace. But the balance of power is destroyed when four of the kingdoms violate an ancient covenant and betray the fifth: Ithrace, the Kingdom of Flames, ruled by Steveren Langene, known as “the Firemane” for his brilliant red hair. As war engulfs the world, Ithrace is destroyed and the Greater Realms of Tembria are thrust into a dangerous struggle for supremacy.

As a Free Lord, Baron Daylon Dumarch owes allegiance to no king. When an abandoned infant is found hidden in Daylon’s pavilion, he realizes that the child must be the missing heir of the slain Steveren. The boy is valuable—and vulnerable. A cunning and patient man, Daylon decides to keep the baby’s existence secret, and sends him to be raised on the Island of Coaltachin, home of the so-called Kingdom of Night, where the powerful and lethal Nocusara, the “Hidden Warriors,” legendary assassins and spies, are trained.

Years later, another orphan of mysterious provenance, a young man named Declan, earns his Masters rank as a weapons smith. Blessed with intelligence and skill, he unlocks the secret to forging King’s Steel, the apex of a weapon maker’s trade known by very few. Yet this precious knowledge is also deadly, and Declan is forced to leave his home to safeguard his life. Landing in Lord Daylon’s provinces, he hopes to start anew.

Soon, the two young men—an unknowing rightful heir to a throne and a brilliantly talented young swordsmith—will discover that their fates, and that of Garn, are entwined. The legendary, long-ago War of Betrayal has never truly ended . . . and they must discover the secret of who truly threatens their world.

Only four months into 2018 and we’ve already had a bumper crop of brand new fantasy novels. The ones I’ve read (Senlin Ascends, Blood of Assassins, The Bitter Twins, Arm of the Sphinx, Tooth and Claw and Blood of the Four) have certainly all been exceptional.  The latest novel to add to this ever-expanding list is from Raymond E Feist. King of Ashes is the first in a new series, and I have to admit I rather enjoyed it.

The chapters alternate between the two main protagonists, Declan and Hatu. Declan is an apprentice smith, while Hatu is being tried by a secret society in the arts of assassination and crime. Each young man is blissfully unaware of the other, but as the author expertly draws their seemingly disparate narratives together you start to see there is a far bigger picture developing. Politics, petty rivalries and power struggles are at play. A single event from many years before is still causing ripples, and it becomes evident that Declan and Hatu are involved. Are they merely pawns in a much larger game or is there a chance they can shape their own destinies?

I liked Declan, but Hatu is harder the empathise with. Declan embodies your traditional heroic type, steadfast and resolute. He is compelled to always do the right thing. Hatu is a modern hero, full of conflict and prone to rage. He tries to do what is right, but his anger often gets in the way. Sometimes I just wanted to give him a slap upside the head. I’m always impressed when an author manages to elicit such an emotive response. Where Declan is stoic, Hatu is barely controlled. I think this is the thing I liked most about King of Ashes. I had expectations, more on that in a bit, and the author managed to not only meet but exceed them with style. This novel is a fascinating amalgam of the old and the new.

King of Ashes can be viewed as merely a beginning, quite a feat when you realise it is over five hundred pages long. Raymond E Feist is an expert when it comes to setting the scene. The novel begins with war and ends on the cusp of another. Two young men and the decisions that they make will have ramifications, not just for them, but for all the kingdoms of the world.

I think we can all agree that Mr Feist is a known quantity. The Riftwar Cycle was an undertaking of epic scope, I’ll always have a fond place in my heart for Midkemia (Jimmy the Hand for the win!), but part of me relishes the opportunity to read something completely new. Book one of The Firemane Trilogy is a masterclass in fantasy literature. Within a handful of pages, you’ll remember you’re are in safe hands. Authors like Ursula Le Guin, David Eddings, George R. R. Martin, Robin Hobb always deliver, and Feist is exactly the same. If you’ve read any of his other novels, then I can guarantee you’ll enjoy this. That sense of comfortable familiarity blends with hints of something new to create an absorbing tale. I would expect nothing less; when it comes to fantasy Feist is a bit of a Magician*

While reading King of Ashes I listened to The Elder Scrolls Online: Music of Tamriel Volume One by Brad Derrick. Bold, awe inspiring and anthemic, this soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment to Feist’s latest work.

King of Ashes is published by Harper Voyager and is available now.

*Oh yeah, I went there.

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