A Time of Ashes is truly an epic fantasy.
a time of ashes
by ru pringle
A Time of ashes
by RU Pringle
What is it about?
“A quest through a thousand worlds. An aeons-old foe. Not even the gods can help. It’s killing them, too.
IN THE YEARS BEFORE THE CORRUPTION CAME, Murrin Kentle lived in a world where the largest island could be walked across in a day, and humans traded and fished in bladeships made from the bones of the gigantic and bizarre sea monsters patrolling its stormy, bottomless oceans.
As a truthkeep of the Brotherhood of the First Mind, it’s been his duty to fight the decay of knowledge with religious fervour. A fervour he has increasingly struggled to maintain.
Before the Corruption came, Sheehan hahe Seeheeli was a carefree countess of the Shi’iin. Amphibious and fiercely matriarchal, her people have maintained an uneasy coexistence with the human scholars dominating the islands. Then an emissary of the gods brings news of an impending catastrophe.
Now, she and Murrin must embark on a desperate voyage in the hope of salvation, although both the subject of their search and the path they must take remain stubbornly obscure.
Before the Corruption came, a wild young man named Coll grew up in a desert town, consumed by rage over what was done to his mother. His thirst for retribution will set in motion a train of events not even the gods could fully have foretold.
NOW THE CORRUPTION IS HERE, and nothing in Murrin’s world, nor any of the worlds of the Sundered Realm, will ever be the same.
- Epic Fantasy
- Low Magic/Stronger Science
- Drawn Out Pacing
- Characters – They’re OK
- Creepy Factor
A Time of Ashes is truly an epic fantasy. The fate of the world, or worlds, rests on the shoulders of a handful of brave adventurers. Only, our heroes aren’t really sure what it is they are looking for or what to do with it when they find it, they only know if they don’t their world and others will fall to the Corruption. I really had no idea what to expect from this book and I found myself intrigued early on by the plot. It sets up fairly quickly, establishing the basic premise and conflict; the world is under threat from an entity that can defeat the gods, a threat that can destroy multiple worlds. Our heroes must set sail and find “the ways” that will let them travel between worlds (like a portal fantasy) to find that thing which will help them stop the Corruption.
The world-building is one of the strong suits of this novel. The initial setting the readers really get to know is an ocean world filled with many small islands. Peopled by humans and the Shi’iin, an aquatic species that seemed a cross between merfolk and a dolphin/whale who also have the ability to shape-change and take on human-like form. It’s a world where bladeships, craft that sit high above the water on specially designed “blades” with a curved base that cut through the water, and masts and sails that jut out to the side of the ship like wings. See the cover for the best image of what I’m talking about.
But the world-building doesn’t stop there, because we get introduced to multiple worlds as the crew of the ship sails from one to the next. Each world has unique features and attributes though we don’t always get to see or experience more than a brief glimpse of them. Eventually, the reader discovers two worlds are really being discussed in detail, the other one with plains and desserts, and all manner of non-ocean type settings.
Also of note is the “Wheel,” this thing in the sky of every world in addition to the sun and moon (or moons) that isn’t explained. The only element of the world-building that bothered me was the use of some creatures with similar names to those in our world but slightly different, like dohg or mousen, like a dog or mouse but maybe they have antennae and/or extra legs. Also the use of slightly different words for other things like smiddy (smithy), kelemytor (kilometer), and so on. These word choices were like speed bumps when reading at times.
One thing that surprised me in A Time of Ashes was the low magic system. There isn’t much magic at all in this book, but there’s the implication and hints of much stronger powers existing, especially in the hands of the gods. What it has instead is a strong science element, making this kind of a science-fantasy. We see or find reference to microscopes, daguerreotype pictures, and chemistry with discussions on methanol, benzyne, hydrocarbons, and thermodynamics. Yet the characters are still using knives and swords as weapons. It’s an interesting choice and makes the setting hard to label in relation to a timeline in our world.
The pacing is one aspect of the book which seemed to drag. While there was an initial quick flurry of events to get things moving, the narrative then slowed down and then began to drag itself out as the characters set out on their quest. Things do happen, it’s just that the overarching narrative doesn’t advance very quickly, and there are at times long periods where the story gets stuck (like a particular series of chapters where one character finds themselves stuck in a dessert and we get a lot of specific survivalist detail about what they must do to survive…a lot of detail).
And while the underlying conflict of the story is set-up early, there isn’t much movement on it for two-thirds of the book. It takes almost half of the book to discover who might be the antagonist in the story…maybe…it isn’t clear at that point…and then they don’t appear again until about the two-thirds mark. So while the story ambles along and introduces many wondrous and crazy things, the reader is left wondering where it is going.
I haven’t said much about the characters yet and…well…that’s because I don’t know what to say about them. I mean they’re OK I guess. There was nothing really bad about them (though Murrin is a little sexist and has some male gaze going on but I think that is intentional). But at the same time there was nothing I loved about any of them. I’d gone seventy percent of the book without really feeling like I was attached to anyone of them. They all had their positives and negatives, but nothing that evoked a strong response from me either way.
I stopped reading at about the seventy percent mark. I realized at that point that I was just pushing myself to finish a book that had initially caught my interest but faded over time hoping that spark would rekindle. It was a mixture of the drawn-out pacing, lack of attachment to the characters, and what I perceived to be some internal inconsistencies (like so much advanced science yet some characters had never dreamt of a recurve bow or seen a pedal driven grinder to sharpen blades). I think I’d known for a while I wasn’t going to advance this book to the next round, but I just wanted to be sure.
The final straw for me was some creepiness that appeared where one character (the baddy) is injecting himself with a serum giving him long life and, well the word “priapism” was used. Then he starts to think about his adopted (stolen) son and how as a child he could best grown men, and his “peg-like penis” (still as a child), and how at that young age he was given his pick of the palace harem, and so on and so forth and I was just like nah…I’m done. There had been some other creepy elements earlier in the story but this just became one too many for me.
So this one gets added to the cut pile. I think there are readers who will enjoy A Time of Ashes, and indeed there are some really interesting elements to it and the concept is interesting, it just wasn’t for me.
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I can’t tell you how excited I am to be a part of this SPFBO team! I LOVE self-published fantasy, and though I’ve only been reading it a few years it has become a staple of my TBR pile. How did I get here? Well…
Back in 2018 I made a goal to read more debut novels. I was contacted by a few self-published authors who asked if I’d be interested in reading their debuts.
At first I wanted to say no because I was under the impression that if you were self-published it had to mean your book was bad otherwise a traditional publisher would have picked it up. I had a lot to learn. And thank the literary gods I agreed to give them a try because they became my gateway to a whole new world of great fantasy.
Soon after that I discovered the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (#SPFBO) hosted by Mark Lawrence and I quickly discovered there were many more great self-published fantasy stories out there. I’ve followed SPFBO each year since and It’s been one of the best ways to discover great new fantasy reads.
I then decided to host Self-Published Fantasy Month on my blog, Off The TBR. For the last three years during the month of September I’ve done that, and this past year had help from a few other friends including our team leader Beth Tabler. So when Beth asked me to join her team this year I jumped at the chance. I can’t wait to see what this year brings!