Book Review: King of Ashes by Raymond E. Feist
Oh boy. It’s been a long while since I’ve done one of these. I’m all a fluster! What does one say? I’ve been looking over some of my old book reviews by the power of the Internet Archive and wondering if it was truly me that wrote them. Almost 10 years ago, for those. It feels like another lifetime.
I’m borrowing much of the old layout/style from those old reviews, so no doubt I probably have Hannah to thank for as it was her blog I was a co-blogger on. So I thank you for that, Hannah, and also that final little nudge (unintentional though it may have been) to get me into a headspace to diversify my content here. :)
This might be a rocky first (in a while) outing, but… enough stalling, let’s get to it!
Author: Raymond E. Feist
Series: The Firemane Saga #1
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Published: April 5th 2018
Source: Personal Copy
Read: June 1 – June 28, 2021 (on Kindle)
Rating: 3 of 5 stars (I liked it)
Angry dark clouds hurried across the sky, foretelling more rain.
The world of Garn once boasted five great kingdoms, until the King of Ithrace was defeated and every member of his family executed by Lodavico, the ruthless King of Sandura, a man with ambitions to rule the world.
Ithrace’s ruling family were the legendary Firemanes, and represented a great danger to the other kings. Now four great kingdoms remain, on the brink of war. But rumour has it that the newborn son of the last king of Ithrace survived, carried off during battle and sequestered by the Quelli Nacosti, a secret society whose members are trained to infiltrate and spy upon the rich and powerful throughout Garn. Terrified that this may be true, and that the child will grow to maturity with bloody revenge in his heart, the four kings have placed a huge bounty on the child’s head.
((…My word, the blurb in full, which I’ve cut down dramatically for the purposes of placing here, is the longest I’ve ever seen! Is this what blurbs are these days? Full plot synopses? Seriously, take a look.))
“If any god helps me, I’ll welcome it, but I’d also be surprised.”
― Raymond E. Feist, King of Ashes
I can’t remember why, precisely, but I had it rather firmly planted in my mind that Feist was retiring after wrapping up his works set in Midkemia. Firmly enough that I hadn’t even thought to look at what he has been up to, since at least 2018 it would appear.
I’m not sure that the distance in time is a bad thing, however. I probably benefited from having a little space, a little breathing room, from Pug, Miranda, and all the other characters. Having that space meant I didn’t go into this brand new world of Garn with quite the same trepidation over whether it will hold up in comparison or not, after spending the course of some 30+ books in that other world.
Still, some comparison is inevitable.
One thing I found is that Feist evolved as a writer over the years. Magician, the starting point of it all, is sprawling epic fantasy that some — not I, but braver people perhaps — might consider in the same breath as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Fast forward to the later works set in Midkemia, and they’re action novels by comparison. They’re rapid-fire, snappy affairs that you can blast through very quickly.
It’s up to personal preference, I suppose whether that change is considered a good one or not, but I’d love to know what drove the change. Did Feist imagine by then, we all knew the characters? Was it market forces demanding the snappier, quick-fire reads? Did his publisher tire of printing gargantuan sized books that were troublesome to produce mass-market editions for?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that King of Ashes possibly occupies the worst mix of attributes in Feist’s writing. The prose is a blunt-force instrument; there is no nuance or subtlety. Characters — perspective characters at least, of which there are a few — will tell you exactly what they’re thinking. There is no room to wonder whether the narrator may not be entirely reliable. There is no ask of the reader to interpret, infer or otherwise exercise a single muscle in their mind to engage with the text.
Which at times might be exactly what the Dr. ordered — but for me, I found it made relating to the characters in any meaningful way impossible.
So there’s that- but this book is also being tasked with establishing the world of Garn for us. So where the blunt writing may have worked as a vehicle for a more action-orientated title, it floundered here.
Lest I continue sounding overly harsh here — a reminder that I rated 3 of 5 stars for King of Ashes, using the Goodreads ranking, meaning ‘I liked it’. Feist isn’t going to win any character development or prose related rewards for this book, sure. But he still sets up a hell of an intrigue. Yep, the strands that connect at the end of the book you can see from a mile off.
But there are enough questions that I want answers to, to propel me forward into the next book. Machinations of the wider plot are starting to show by the end of the book. Factions that are yet to enter the world stage, in a way clear to us as readers.
At this stage, I feel that the ultimate strength of this book is going to have to be judged in the context of the rest of the trilogy it’s a part of. Book two — Queen of Storms — is already out, and I’ve launched into it immediately. It released last year, so I expect we’ll see the final entry, Master of Furies, sometime next year.
Overall though, from what I know in the here and now — if you don’t mind a lighter, less demanding read for whatever reason (and I can think of plenty right now), then Feist has you covered. Provided, of course, you also don’t mind waiting for the last book in the trilogy to release. *shakes fist in Rothfuss’ general direction*