It Began With Ashes, Wroge Elements Part 1 by D.E.M Emrys
It Began With Ashes is the sort of book that I like to pick up – an author I’ve never heard of, writing my kind of fantasy. Generally speaking, when a book hits this combination, it tends to fall into one of two categories after reading: 1. Books I really like, and 2. Books I can take or leave (with “books I really don’t like” being a much rarer option not worth numbering). Ashes comfortably sits in the pile of books under category 2.
The book shows some pretty good promise, with a solid story, decent characters and some good scenes. There’s not an awful lot of the world uncovered within the pages, but saying that, we don’t cover too much ground, and what we do see of the world is subtly revealed as and when necessary. There’s little snippets here and there that show there’s more to the world than the story itself covers, and I think that builds well for the continuation of the series.
Generally speaking, the characters interact well, and where necessary there’s some solid enough background to them – revealed much like the geography, on an ‘as necessary’ basis that works well to keep the flow of the story at a good pace. The writing itself allows for the pages to turn at a swift rate, helped along by a good, honest fantasy storyline. We’re not saving the world here, just trying to keep our little corner of it safe from marauding raiders. Given this, the conflict almost writes itself and the characters approach it well, a little too well at times for my personal tastes.
For me there was a little too much brevity in and around the fight scenes, with the grittiness of the situation losing out. I also found a bit too much repetition with the “Is’d ko fehd!” war cry of the Vikir raiders and the promise of “One day I’ll be as strong as you, dad,” seeming to take up a disproportionate number of the 48,000 odd words, making the eyes roll a bit when I should have been gripped by the action. Several times the end phrase of a chapter or section was repeated by a different character in a different situation at the start of the next and it just didn’t read as a natural break for me, especially when this happened three or four times in quick succession towards the end of the book.
This aside, and ignoring some simple mistakes in the writing that somehow always seem to find their way into a finished product even of the highest order, my main gripe with Ashes is the length. At just under 50,000 words it’s more of a fat novella than the slimmest of fantasy novels. The ending, while not exactly a sudden, cliffhanging event, did read more like the end of a section than the end of the book and with the promise of a continuation in an upcoming sequel, I couldn’t help but feel I’ve only read half a book here. For me, another volume of similar size to this effort would combine nicely with Ashes to make a standalone novel, or perhaps the start of a longer series. There’s certainly enough of a story and enough talent in the writing for a polished up, novel-sized offering to stand its ground well amongst the new wave of fantasy debutants.
Overall: A plot all the better for its honest simplicity, It Began With Ashes would be better served as a novel twice its length but does deliver good action sequences and the promise of more to come.
Dominish rating: 62%