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Long ago, a magical war destroyed the Chosen Empire, and a new republic rose from its ashes.
But old grudges still simmer…

8.5/10

Hello dear reader or listener, I hope you’ve been having a pleasant first summer month. For my part, I finally got the chance to actually slow down with my reading and everything else, so, I also had the freedom to sit with a book a little longer and not stress over finishing it by a set date. That’s why, although I’ve had it on my shelves since it first came out in 2020, I finally read Ashes of the Sun!
I wanted to be able to take my time entering a new epic by the author of one of my favorite series (The Shadow Campaigns – which is amazing and here I have small list of reasons why you should run to read it if you haven’t already) and I am glad I did, because Wexler once again delivers.

Also, in a fun coincidence, this was an excellent read for Pride month as this story presents us with a lovely mix of diversity and inclusivity. This is the second series I’m reading by this author and I can happily say his writing of queer characters has only gotten better through the years.

Now, let me get a tiny disclaimer out of the way first:

While Wexler’s book does have many an Easter egg, and plenty of homages and call backs to George Lucas’ space wizards/monks, Burningblade & Silvereye is still very much not ‘Star Wars but a little to the left’. Yes, there is a Republic and an Order but, let’s be real, those are pretty much staples throughout a lot of SFF. What I am mainly getting at, is that while there may be a clear inspiration behind certain aspects of this story, it is primarily aesthetic, and even then, Wexler gives everything his own spin and flair.
I even tweeted while reading, that AotS is what Snyder had wanted/hoped Rebel Moon to be and failed, re Star Wars homage; and I still stand by that now that I’m done reading. It is still so wild to me that one would try to write for a massive IP, get their script rejected, and then, instead of taking their losses and appreciating the fact that they still get to realize that script into a movie with some grace, they would try to make themselves feel better by trying to trash that very IP they wrote for, while also spectacularly failing to deliver on what they bragged about. There’s petty and then there’s Snyder.
But we digress.

I don’t often find myself reading Science Fantasy but I was craving the unique blend of tech and magic it can bring, and Wexler has that in spades with this first book. The worldbuilding is on point every step of the way, organically woven through character exposition, with a great balance of show and tell, and immersive ambiance that comes to life as you are reading. The reader immediately understands how this society is tiered and organized as we are greeted by the familiar and yet enthralled by the wondrous and otherworldly elements of this story that is progressively unfolding at a great pace. The magic system is badass, not to mention the freakiness of the plaguespawn monsters that adds that extra bit of grittiness and dimension to everything.

Also, I am a sucker for the siblings on opposite sides trope, because, you know, angst,  and the best part about this first book is that while there may be a slight lean towards one side, in terms of who you think the good guys are and who the bad, things are not as black and white. You get hints of who the real tyrants are for sure, but not everything is as it seems and I always found myself rooting for both characters equally. Maya and Gyre’s struggle to reconcile what they think they know is true with the events upending those same beliefs was excellently rendered and, even though I definitely found myself grumbling at one or the other to just open their eyes in the face of sketchy shit happening, I did so happily. In fact, Wexler’s writing makes you lean into his characters and their struggles, as well as their triumphs, because they are so emotionally genuine and imperfect that they feel utterly real.

The juxtaposition of 17yo Maya’s inner turmoil regarding her mentor being accused of treason, while at the same time agonizing over her crush, was so amusingly yet refreshingly real. And to those being snide in reviews about a male author writing a young woman’s “questionable/horny” observations and inner thoughts, I just know you wouldn’t give a flying F had it been a young male protag being written that way by a woman. I know it might be a kneejerk reaction on our part after so many women written by male authors monstrosities, and I’ll be the first to say I may have raised an eyebrow in the past. But I am also always saying that if you have an issue with how a woman is written, when you wouldn’t have that same issue had the character been a man, then the problem lies elsewhere.
Meanwhile Gyre is a little older, more world weary, and had a harder life than Maya after their separation, which lays the foundation, not only for a deeply interesting character, but it sets him up as the perfect foil to Maya and vice-versa. We get to see how two very similar characters starting from the same point are then each shaped by their different circumstances and it is oh so good.

Wexler’s characters, both primary and secondary, have depth and range, they grow and mature even if they’re not the protagonists, all the while the reader is both rooting for and dreading the reunion between the two siblings. The author also keeps you guessing till the very end regarding which way the plot will go and you can’t help but want to know more. About the history of this world, about what lead to the current conditions, about what lies the victors told, because you always know, history is revised to fit those in power.

In short, Django Wexler’s Ashes of the Sun is the riveting and action-packed opening chapter in what promises to be an enthralling trilogy, rife with political and magical intrigue, sibling rivalry, broken beliefs, and newfound allies. All of which grips the reader by the hand and pulls us to jump down a waterfall of potentially world-shattering events. I cannot wait to see where the sequels will take me next!

Until next time,
Eleni A. E.

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