Tinsley clearly has a brilliant imagination.
We Men of Ash and Shadow is a book that I’ve seen plenty of amazing reviews for. A gritty assassin slash detective with a bitter and hard past: check. A villain you can understand with a brutal method of achieving their own dreams: check. A cast of characters both diverse and shadowy enough for somebody like me to enjoy them: check. A cool AF magic system set to be abused: check. Most of the ingredients I love in a book we’re there, but this book just did not land for me.
Let’s start with the positive. We Men of Ash and Shadown is brilliantly imaginative in character, world, and story. Vanguard, a hitman with a conscience and a dark past, is working for the vicious Captain Sanquain running the city of D’Orsee by driving the separation of the rich and the poor. Does Vanguard like it? Not really. But he needs a paycheck and a direction in life, and he has a lot of making good to do for his past life as a soldier. Henriette runs a brothel, where she consistently straddles the line of running a business and looking after the women in her employ. The hulking Kosic mans her door with Vince, keeping people safe, while seeking more in life. Sanderson, a Red Badge (essentially a policeman) is a gruff kind of counterpoint to Vanguard, the boiling water to Vanguard’s oil. And finally, Tarryn is a noble son of a house fallen on hard times. The patriarch dead, the matriarch suffering from dementia, and Tarryn struggling to keep some form of his world together. All of the stories and people are about to slam together in the melting pot of violence that is the city of D’Orsee as Sanquain give Vaguard a job he definitely does not want.
Tinsley clearly has a brilliant imagination. The overarching world, idea, and story are excellent and you can see the passion for a nice turn of phrase, action, and a damned good yarn on every page. However, in my opinion, this book did not land the execution.
The key thing that I really struggled with was the author’s habit of head / POV hopping for a sentence or two mid-scene consistently had me thinking a new character was being introduced, only to jump back into the scene’s POV’s head. And the movement amongst POVs of consequence within scenes meant I was consistently stopping amongst the action to backtrack and make sure I understood whose perspective I was reading from. At one point we even jumped into the head of an imaginary ghost friend of a character’s past for a couple of sentences. Third-person omniscient narration just doesn’t work well for me as it breaks my reading flow.
My second main issue was one of the lead character’s progression. One moment they are a bumbling and fallen gentleperson with an inner rage problem, the next moment they are John Wick without a moral compass. The mental progression made sense to me, but the physical progression did not—and anybody who has played any sort of sport, let alone a combat sport, will tell you that shit does not land overnight just because you remove some shackles that would normally prevent you from hurting somebody. It’s like it needed a cheesy training montage or something.
We Men of Ash and Shadow was an amazing concept and had a lot of the things I love to read in a fantasy, but while the story overall was cool, it lacked in the execution for my tastes. Plenty of other more qualified reviewers have said otherwise, so reader, take this as the personal opinion it’s intended to be.
Check Out We Men of Ash and Shadow
Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn’t matter the format, or when it was published or produced–just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke’s in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that’s his heaven.