Lands of Ash: Epic Fantasy

If you like epic fantasy, you should consider Lands of Ash by H.L. Burke. It is an epic story with an intriguing world.

I “met” this author at a Christian indie author release party. I was excited to read her newest book since fantasy with a Christian bent can be hard to find.

When I agreed to review her book, she sent me an advanced reviewer’s copy. I immediately set about reading it while running on the treadmill (the best way to pass the miles).

Summary

Book one is about the war between humans and the fire elementals, who have been burning their forests and cities for decades. Most of the story centers on two brothers who are determined to stop the elementals – or die trying.

Book two follows a boy who occasionally narrated scenes in the first book. His sister was born the day the elemental war ended and she is the portal keeper. This brings all sorts of unsavory types out of the wood work, and he ends up seeking refuge in Haven, the settlement of the brothers from book one.

Book three follows the story after they’ve all returned to Haven. Many new voices begin narrating scenes, but the action is so constant that the changes aren’t noticeable or distracting.

In my opinion, adding scenes from the fire elemental lord’s perspective stole tension from the story and gave away too much information. There would have been more suspense if the author would have allowed the reader to learn about those plans at the same time the characters did.

Review

It was awesome to read fantasy with a Christian worldview. I loved the elements of forgiveness and redemption woven throughout the book, and especially in the third part. The Christian allegory is clear while not being intrusive.

Unfortunately, this book started out very slow. In the way of epic fantasy, we bobbed between narrators and I struggled to connect with the all-male cast. The foreshadowing wasn’t subtle and I called all the early “twists.”

The premise was excellent. The world well-conceived and revealed. The cast of characters – mostly shallow. With the exception of Ketyl and Brode, most of the point of view characters didn’t get enough screen time for me to get inside their head.

Sometime after the midpoint of the story, I was finally vested in the story. Things were moving along. We’d finally gotten out of the set up and background and into the STORY. This means, the author started the story too early.

Another problem I had with the book was that it was actually three books in one. Each told a different person’s story, but all of them had more than a single narrator. Most of the time, I wondered, “Whose story is this? Why do I care?”

According to the blurb, this should have been Pet and Brode’s story. The first book was mostly Ketyl’s story, and he remained a prominent point of view character. The second book seemed to be Brode’s story, and I can’t reveal who I believe the third book followed because I don’t want to spoil anything. This layout kept me disengaged.

My biggest issue with this story is the “turn to the dark side” of two characters. We know I’m not a fan of the dark side. But we need antagonists to add conflict to our story. I will say the motivation was present for the turns; they didn’t appear out of thin air.

One of the traitors is a minor character. His turn involves something as small as leading people to their camp and scaring someone. His special abilities make him susceptible to the “voices.” Afterward, he feels so guilty about his betrayal, he begs for banishment or death.

The other character is a major player. His motivations are authentic, but his actions kicked me out of the story in a second. His betrayal involved murder. And he didn’t feel remorseful. Here is someone we considered heroic and he isn’t even second-guessing his sudden compulsion to murder a CLOSE friend?

Recommendation

If you’re looking for fantasy that is more than just magic and epic battles, you will enjoy this book.

I suggest reading each book independently of the others, maybe even taking a breather between them. Don’t read the blurb. It sets your expectations in the wrong place (or it did for me).

Prepare yourself for a story of set-up. Feel free to skip over Brode’s scenes in book one and return to read them before you start book two. I found they distracted me from the flow of the story of Ketyl and Karvir versus the fire elementals.

This book is suitable for readers twelve and over. The violence isn’t graphic, so younger readers won’t be traumatized by the death portrayed here (there’s a war).

What do you think? Add to the discussion here.