I am not sure exactly if I have read the same book as most people on Amazon or Goodreads seem to have read, as there is almost universal praise on those sites. I can say, that for me the story of Throne of Ashes is virtually nonexistant. You see, the vast majority of this book focuses on our two (maybe 3?) main characters: Declan the Smith, Hatu the Orphan, and Hava the…Assassin I suppose is the best term for her.
Before I start digging in, let’s begin (as I often do with my book reviews) with the Excerpt from the Amazon / Goodreads Page:
The first volume in legendary master and New York Times bestselling author Raymond E. Feist’s epic heroic fantasy series, The Firemane Saga—an electrifying tale of two young men whose choices will determine a world’s destiny.
For centuries, the five greatest kingdoms of North and South Tembria, twin continents on the world of Garn, have coexisted in peace. But the balance of power is destroyed when four of the kingdoms violate an ancient covenant and betray the fifth: Ithrace, the Kingdom of Flames, ruled by Steveren Langene, known as “the Firemane” for his brilliant red hair. As war engulfs the world, Ithrace is destroyed and the Greater Realms of Tembria are thrust into a dangerous struggle for supremacy.
As a Free Lord, Baron Daylon Dumarch owes allegiance to no king. When an abandoned infant is found hidden in Daylon’s pavilion, he realizes that the child must be the missing heir of the slain Steveren. The boy is valuable—and vulnerable. A cunning and patient man, Daylon decides to keep the baby’s existence secret, and sends him to be raised on the Island of Coaltachin, home of the so-called Kingdom of Night, where the powerful and lethal Nocusara, the “Hidden Warriors,” legendary assassins and spies, are trained.
Years later, another orphan of mysterious provenance, a young man named Declan, earns his Masters rank as a weapons smith. Blessed with intelligence and skill, he unlocks the secret to forging King’s Steel, the apex of a weapon maker’s trade known by very few. Yet this precious knowledge is also deadly, and Declan is forced to leave his home to safeguard his life. Landing in Lord Daylon’s provinces, he hopes to start anew.
Soon, the two young men—an unknowing rightful heir to a throne and a brilliantly talented young swordsmith—will discover that their fates, and that of Garn, are entwined. The legendary, long-ago War of Betrayal has never truly ended . . . and they must discover the secret of who truly threatens their world.
That excerpt promises so very very much in this novel, and for me it failed to deliver in spectacular fashion. Also that excerpt basically tells you almost the entire “plot” to the book! But let’s talk about some of the good here.
First, the world building is excellent. I love the ideas presented here with the landmasses, the 5 kingdoms (although 4 once the book really gets going), the way magic is introduced, and how the characters interact and treat each other. A lot of time is spent specifically on the Kingdom of Night and its “Hidden Warriors”, who Hatu (the orphan) has been training with. You learn a great deal about how this kingdom of what are essentially criminals works and how they interact with the world around them, and it’s very cool. It’s also very similar to the Mockers and Nighthawks from his earlier Midkemia works, and the Kingdom feels at times like a combination between the two.
For the most part, I enjoyed the characters as well. Declan the Smith is a genuinely good man, who has a clear motivation in his life. Hava (a Nocusara in training and friend of Hatu) is a legit badass lady, and outside of one chapter is treated as equal to any other person in the organization. The other characters that we meet as we go through the book are all equally characterful and interesting. The few villains we meet in the novel are fascinating, and the way magic seems to be setup is also fascinating as well, but hardly mentioned.
However, this is the only positives I can really say for the novel.
Let’s start with my biggest single issue to this novel: The pacing. I read this on my Kindle app on my phone, and from about 20% to about 65% of the book…there is no movement really on the plot. There are a couple of very small hints or events, yes, but the vast majority of the book early on is spent on Declan and Hatu’s lives. We literally go through their day to day experiences, focusing on their thoughts and feelings which would be fine…if they didn’t keep being repeated. Very rarely do the sections devoted to their thoughts ever change. Declan first “conflict” is to stay or leave his home, and then once he leaves his home its if he wants to start a family or not. There are hints that greater things are happening AROUND him, but they do not happen TO him.
Hava for the most part is a side character, but a focus of Hatu’s throughout the book. She has one single chapter devoted to her…and it’s all about her being trained to be a Powered Woman, aka a Geisha, aka an assassin who uses sex, flattery, and the like to get their way and information. Now, prior to this, it is established that she is a complete badass who can hold her own against anyone, and in fact is better than Hatu frequently in fights. But for some reason she has a chapter all about learning to have sex…and that she doesnt enjoy it nor is good at it? It’s very weird, and out of left field. There is a bit at the end of the chapter where she kicks the shit out of a spy, but after that she is hustled out of the school and its never spoken of again.
Hatu, however, is even worse. It’s made clear that this is a child with anger issues, and it took me until 70% of the way through the novel to find out WHY he has such issues. Most of the time with Hatu, barring a couple of specific events that set things up, is spent with him trying to figure out his sexual feelings towards Hava. He clearly wants her, but doesnt understand why. Whole pages are spent repeating these feelings and issues, pounding them into the readers head. And then suddenly, around the 80% mark of the book, he has an “awakening” out of nowhere, and becomes calm, with sudden new powers. By this point the reader knows WHY he can do all this, but its very sudden with almost no lead up. Its like a literal switch is flipped inside him. He goes from “MUST HOLD HULK SMASH IN” to “Oh neat I can do all these new things thats cool he I can sense people and stuff thats not scary or weird at all!”.
Additionally, repetition is another serious issue here. Frequently Feist will repeat things, about how the Nations are organized, or Hatu’s rage, or how Hatu’s friends are the only ones who can calm him, ect ect ect. Over and over the same things are repeated almost as if Feist is worried that we, the readers, missed them. It’s like “HEY HATU HAS FEELINGS FOR HAVA DO YOU GET IT YET DO YOU WELL IF YA DONT HERE ARE 3 MORE PARAGRAPHS ABOUT THE TIME HE GOT A BONER IN FRONT OF HER!”
No, really, I had to read about his first boner. Twice. Once got the point across, the second instance was completely unneeded. In fact, I dare say with some editing you could cut at least 40% of the book right out, and the entire story would remain unchanged. There is that much pointless fluff here. Also it feels at times there is a weird obsession with sex and sexuality at times in the book. For seemingly no real reason.
The small hints, the small conflicts, here and there, pointing at a larger “threat” are mostly lost in between this repetition of banal events and the endless amounts of fluff the apparently 500 pages in print this book contains. In fact, it was only when I reached 85% of the way through the book that things started to actually pick up and a conflict, a STORY, FINALLY started to emerge. Up until that point, the book was all about the lives of Hatu and Declan, and the mundanity of it all.
And the ending?
THERE IS NO ENDING! Straight up this book has no actual ending to its “story” and once I got to the end and realized what had happened, it hit me. This book is a 500 page PROLOGUE for an actual story and conflict that will only be apparent in Book 2. Thats all! And there was even a little twist in the Epilogue which was so bloody trite it felt insulting, as if to say “Tune in next week to see what happens to Hatu and company!” Only next week is a year or more away! Oh, and the first time Declan and Hatu “the two whose fates are to be intertwined” dont meet until the last 10% of the book, exchange a couple of words, and then part ways! How is that….I dont…ARG!
I bought this book because I loved Feist work on the Midkemia novels. In fact, the first Computer RPG I ever played was Betrayal at Krondor which he wrote. But this? This is a mess from start to finish for me, and frankly I am sure as hell that I am NOT going to pick up the second book. Further, I cannot in good faith recommend this book to anyone looking for a good fantasy novel. There is stuff that is good here…but it’s just surrounded by so much pointless fluff that you end up getting lost. Nevermind the fact that it has no actual ending. If this had been edited more, cut down to maybe 300 pages with an actual ending and all the repetition gone, I could see myself enjoying it a whole lot more. But I am also of the opinion that any book, even one part of a Trilogy or Series, needs to have its own story, its own beginning middle and end. And this one fails to achieve that. It’s a 500 page prologue and introduction into a larger world with a larger conflict. In and of itself, it tells no real story. It’s just “The life and times of Hatu and Declan”. And for me, that’s not enough.
And for those curious, if you want a good example of how to do a series right? Read Rick Riordan’s Camp Halfblood books or The Dresdan Files by Jim Butcher. Each book in those series are their own story and at the same time part of an overarching narrative. You could pick up any book in either series and get a full story from start to finish.