Book Reviews, Fantasy

Review: Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham

Kithamar is a centre of trade and wealth, an ancient city with a long, bloody history where countless thousands live and their stories unfold. This is Alys’s. When her brother is murdered, a petty thief from the slums of Longhill sets out to discover who killed him and why. But the more she discovers about him, the more she learns about herself, and the truths she finds are more dangerous than knives. Swept up in an intrigue as deep as the roots of Kithamar, where the secrets of the lowest born can sometimes topple thrones, the story Alys chooses will have the power to change everything.

Thank you to NetGalley and Orbit for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.

What a book! I’m not always a fan of slow fantasy (though I know it’s often necessary for good world building) but there was something so deliberate about the pace of this book, like a vulture slowly circling its prey, sprawling much like the city its set in. Kithamar is a fascinating location – it is a huge and ancient city that, over the years, has swallowed up smaller settlements until old enemies have settled into being relatively comfortable neighbours.

The part of the city we see the most is Longhill, where the main character Alys is from. Longhill is the home of the Inlisc people, and it is the poorest area of the city, made of fragile wood and looked down upon by the rest of Kithamar. The story starts with an eagle-eyed view of the city, coming at it a year after the main events begin; the Prince has died and the city is in limbo, but before things gain too wide a perspective the focus narrows down to Alys and how she came to her current situation. Alys is a young woman who spends her days running pulls, teaming up with others from Longhill to steal from those more fortunate, especially on festival days when people are out in their finery.

The map from Age of Ash

When the leader of her team decides to target a member of the city guard for their next pull, Alys gets caught and is able to get away only with the help of her older brother Darro. He sends her into hiding for a few days, promising to take care of everything, but when she emerges again Darro’s corpse has washed up on the shores of the river. In shock and grief, Alys takes up Darro’s last job to try and discover what killed him, and she is catapulted into a world of secrets, danger, and magic, and she runs the risk of losing herself to her anger and the city itself.

‘There are gods in the streets these days.’

As I said at the start, this is a slow-paced story, though it has many bursts of action, but the slow reveal of the mystery at the heart of Age of Ash is so worth it, and as Abraham builds up the tension he also builds up a strange and beautiful world. I am not sure I would ever want to live in Kithamar but I would happily read many books set within its walls, as I’m sure hundreds of stories could be told about it. Though I loved that Alys, a young girl from the slums and of no political importance, took centre stage, I was also itching to catch more glimpses inside the walls of the palace and I do hope we get to see more politics and intrigue in the rest of the trilogy. This was my first encounter with Daniel Abraham’s work (apart from my current obsession with The Expanse tv show) and it certainly won’t be the last – I eagerly await the next book in the Kithamar Trilogy and will definitely be exploring the author’s backlist.

Book Info

Published: 17th February 2022 by Orbit
Genre: fantasy
Pages: 448
Series: The Kithamar Trilogy, book one
Narration style: third person, past tense
Format read: eARC
Content Warnings: death, child neglect, blood, drowning

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