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Book Review- “Kingdom of Ash” by Sarah J. Maas

Kingdom of AshWhen I’m not writing, I’m working at a library and over the past couple of years I had noticed people checking out the books in Sarah J Maas’ “Throne of Glass” series. They had an intriguing set of covers that feature a pale, bad-ass woman, who made me think of almost a female version of Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone. They were in the Y.A. Section though so I dismissed those books as not for me. Thankfully two friends (Thanks Liz and Whitney!) convinced me to try the first book and I learned how wrong I was to dismiss this series. I was also told that the series got better and better as it went on. That’s a really hard feat, but Mass pulled it off. With each book I grew to love the series and characters even more.

The books were rather lengthy though and I’m a slow reader. So I did the first six in audio form as books on CD I got from my library. I wanted to do the seventh and final, “Kingdom of Ash,” that way too because it was especially long and seemed daunting. The book on CD set though was not readily available. So I finally decided to take the plunge and tackle “Kingdom of Ash” in prose form and it turns out I shouldn’t have worried about the length at all. The book flew by. It’s the fastest I’ve read something that lengthy in a long time. It was a long book that I didn’t want to end, but couldn’t help to read more. That’s because “Kingdom of Ash” was a reward to readers of the other six book in the series. As good as the other books were, Maas truly saved the best in this series for last, and delivered an epic climax that shined as bright as series protagonist, Aelin Galathynius AKA the Firebringer.

Kingdom of Ash” is utterly enjoyable because Maas did her homework with the sixMaas previous books in the series. She built up a cast of characters that I genuinely cared about and set them on some incredible arcs. So, this novel is pure payout. Things that have been built too since the beginning of the series finally happen and I was there for it. The work that Maas did with her characters is so strong that I found myself rooting for and shedding tears for ones I didn’t like and flat out hated when they first appeared in the series. Those characters include Rowan Whitethorn who I first dismissed as a slab of beefacake and Dorian Havilliard who I initially thought of as a stuck up, snobby rich kid. Now Dorian is one of my favorite characters in the series. I especially loved his arc and the arc of Manon Blackbeak. Villain redemption arcs are some of my favorite tropes in genre fiction and Maas hit that arc out of the park when it came to Manon.

The attachments I felt to all those characters elevated all the grand moments in “Kingdom of Ash” into something truly special. Maas throws out all the stops with epic battles, difficult magical choices, and characters reaching for and trying to become what they want to be and what they’re meant to be. I laughed, I cheered, and I cried . . . a lot. “Kingdom of Ash” is packed with poignant moments; character sacrifices, destinies realized, the loss of loved ones, and best of all faith in goodness and kindness being rewarded.

Some of the especially poignant moments in “Kingdom of Ash” come from characters confronting traumatic experiences. I think that’s true off all the books in the “Throne of Glass” series. Maas forces her characters to deal with trauma and PTSD and that’s part of the reason why these books have the emotional heft they do. It’s not something you see a lot of in heroic/epic fantasy, but I wish we’d see more of it, especially if its as handled as carefully as Maas tackles it.

So, yes “Kingdom of Ash” was a hell of a book, and fantastic conclusion to one of my favorite fantasy series. I’m excited to read more work from Maas.

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Categories: Book Review

Book Review-Watchers in Death by David Annandale

Watchers in DeathSpace Marines are ubiquitous with Warhammer 40,000, but interestingly enough they were not the heroes that brought me into the game and the universe. No that honor belongs to Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn and his retinue, the stars of Dan Abnett’s “Xenos.” They were the first 40K heroes I really got into. However, the elite Space Marines of the Deathwatch were a part of that first Eisenhorn novel, and they did make an impression on me. I thought the Deathwatch were even cooler when I picked up Fantasy Flight Games now defunct “Deathwatch” RPG, which revolved around the titular Adeptus Astartes alien hunters. So I was very curious when I learned that book nine in Black Library’s “The Beast Arises” storyline would be the in cannon origin of the Deathwatch. I just finished that book, “Watchers in Death” by David Annandale, and I’m happy to report that it’s a lot of fun.

The formation of the Deathwatch is a momentous event in 40K history because it david_annandalerepresents a shift in the way the Imperium of Mankind and its Space Marines fight wars. So there needed to be something huge to lead to the creation of the organization. That big event was the massive defeat and loss of the Salamanders Primarch, Vulkan, in the previous “Beast Arises” novel. Annandale makes good use of that event in “Watchers in Death.” He gives you a real sense that the superhuman Space Marines are shocked to the core and ready to try different tactics like fielding small Spec Ops style teams of Adeptus Astartes from different chapters. You also get a believable reason for the Deathwatch’s signature black armor, that they are in mourning for the brothers they lost at Ullanor in the previous book of the series.

One of my favorite aspects of “The War of the Beast” storyline are the political thriller elements to it, and Annandale works in some of that in “Watchers in Death” in some pretty cool ways. We see how the idea for the Deathwatch comes about, and we also see the chaos and tension that explodes when Koorland, the lone survivor of the Imperial Fists who we first met back in book one, tries to market that idea to the High Lords of Terra. You also get some fun moments with the representatives of the Inquistion, Wienand and Veritus. They’re especially interesting to pay attention to if you know of the Deathwatch’s ties to the Inquisition.

For the most part though, “Watchers in Death” is a novel jam packed with fun and thrilling action set pieces. We get to see newly formed Deathwatch Kill Teams perform boarding actions in a variety of settings. These scenes are the highlights of the book. You can tell Annandale had a great time writing the almost Guerilla Warfare style tactics Deathwatch Kill Teams used against the larger ork forces. The action is fast, furious and fun.


Credit also goes to Annandale for creating Deathwatch Kill Teams readers care about. A couple of the Kill Teams include characters established in previous novels like Koorland and Thane, Chapter Master of the Imperial Fists. Most of them though feature characters readers meet for the first time in the book. And by the end of the novel I was rooting for them to survive. My favorites of the new cast included a Space Wolf named Asger War Fist and a Dark Angels Techmarine named Abathar.

So, all in all, “Watchers in Death” was a pretty fun novel with interesting characters that moved the plot of the “Beast Arises” storyline forward in some interesting ways, especially at the end. There is however still three novels in the series left for me to read. So my concern is that there are more novels left in the series than there are actual story. I hope I’m wrong, but even if I’m not if the last three novels in the 12 book series are even half as enjoyable as “Watchers in Death” they’ll have been worth the read.