Book Review: King of Ashes

Title: King of Ashes

Series: The Fireman Saga # 1

Author: Raymond E Feist

Publication: 2018

THE BLURB

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. 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.

THE REVIEW

King of Ashes is the first book in The Firemane Saga, a planned trilogy by Raymond E Feist. It was first published in 2018, and its sequel, Queen of Storms, will release this month on July 14th (2020). 

King of Ashes begins with betrayal. 

The Kingdom of Ithrace and it’s royal family, the Firemanes, betrayed by their allies, have ridden straight into an ambush; defeated, they’re immediately executed.  

Shortly after their death, Baron Daylon, a powerful and independent Nobel, guilt-ridden by his part in the betrayal, finds a baby with fiery red hair in his tent. 

Realizing that the baby is the sole survivor of the Firemane line, he hides the infant far away from the deadly politics of Garn.  

night fire burning sparks

The story in King of Ashes is split between three major points-of-view. 

Declan, an apprentice smith, gifted enough to learn the secret of smithing Kings Steel. 

After the fall of Ithrace and the growing power of the despised King Lodavico of Sandura, the world is unstable. Shortly after earning the title Master Smith, Declan’s village is attacked by slavers. To avoid capture he and the other young villager have to flee.  

Far away, on the secretive island domain of the Kingdom of Night, childhood friends DonteHatushali and Hava are close to finishing their education in espionage and assassination. 

Sent on separate assignments, their paths diverge and cross as they’re thrown into deadly situations. Together and spereatly, they face schemes, politics, power struggles, while navigating the confusing and frustrating line between adolescents and adulthood.   

Hava has to face the challenges of being a woman in an organization dominated by men and see her loyalty to her people pitted against her friendship with Hatushali.  

Meanwhile, Hathushali fights to control the internal rage that’s always been inside of him and wrestles with who he is and his sense of not quite belonging; something made apparent by the burning red hair he has to go to such lengths to hide.  

abstract art blaze bonfire

King of Ashes is epic fantasy; it’s also very much a Raymond E Feist book. 

What do I mean by that? 

Raymond E Feist is an acclaimed fantasy author that has spent the better part of thirty years writing a fantasy series commonly known as The Rift War Cycle

The Firemane Saga is his first series set outside of his massive Rift War Universe

Feist writes classic, epic fantasy. His worlds are always well-established, detailed, diverse, and often grimy, although rarely gory or graphic. He invests a lot of time in building both his world and his characters. 

As such, King of Ashes is very much a beginning. It introduces the world and sets events in motion that will ensure that, by the end of this book, all characters are in place for the larger plot to kick-off; this is not uncommon for Feist

He is a highly character-driven author and outstanding at creating multifaceted, engaging, and continually evolving characters.

I love Feist’s writing but, if you’re a plot-driven reader, who prefers fast-paced storytelling over slow, introspective character building, you’ll probably become frustrated by the pacing of the story. 

However, once he gets the ball rolling, there is a lot of action and focus on the plot in Feist’s stories, but it takes a while to get there; sometimes, it takes an entire book. 

King of Ashes is a perfect example of that. 

closeup photo of fire during night time

This does not mean King of Ashes is boring. 

King of Ashes is a slow beginning, but it is entertaining, and an excellent read. 

The foundation of the story, secret heir to the throne with possible hidden powers, isn’t groundbreaking; it’s classic fantasy. However, it’s a trope for a reason. 

Feist has a talent for creating worlds that feel wast, diverse, alive, and in constant motion. Even though it’s a classic medieval(ish) fantasy world, it breaths. What’s more, Feist is very good at turning a classic trope into an engaging story.

Apart from the separate storylines involving the three major points-of-view, there are several sub-plots, touching on subjects like religious conflict and political turmoil.  

Even though the over-arching plot relies on an well-worn story, there are enough side-plots, sub-plots, fractions, and characters to make the story feel unpredictable. 

If you’re familiar with the fantasy genre, you can see where the story’s going, but you can’t predict how it will get there. 

bonfire burning campfire fire

One thing that struck me while reading was the vastness of the world. 

There are so many threads, side-plots, prophecies, fractions, and hidden agendas; many where Feist, this far, has only just scratched the surface. 

I feel like the story being set-up in this book is larger than one trilogy. 

There’s no evidence to suggest that Feist has plans to continue this story beyond the three books announced. But, the groundwork laid down in King of Ashes is expansive for one trilogy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Feist continues to expand this world.

With that said, with Feist, I’m never worried that a series will not be finished, or that I’ll have to wait seven years for the next book. When publishing a series, his books are usually released yearly or, at most, every two years. 

One of the many reasons I’m so fond of his writing is that, in contrast to many fantasy authors, he knows how to end a series.

 *Cough*Jordan, Rothfuss, Martin*Cough* 

His Rift War Cycle contains thirty-one books, but it’s divided into several duologies, trilogies, or quadrilogies. This means you can read one of his trilogies and still have a clearly defined beginning and end. You don’t have to wait seventeen books and twenty-five years for a story to reach its conclusion. 

Feist is a master at creating cleary defined story-arcs within a massive, continuous universe. 

time lapse photography of flame

As for negatives, some of the minor sub-plots involving female characters felt a little cringy. 

In general, I think Feist is reasonably good at writing female characters. 

Even if they’re not always to my taste, you can tell he tries to write compelling, female and POC characters. They don’t always hit the mark, but the intention is apparent in their characterization.

In King of Ashes, I didn’t have any major issues with the femla characters, but there were brief, cringy moments. It didn’t negate my enjoyment of the book but, if you’re a woman, I think you’ll probably roll your eyes in the same places I did. 

Another aspect that might be a problem for some readers, is that Feist sometimes drags his character development too far; at times, the character introspection can feel whiny or repetitive. 

In King of Ashes, this becomes an issue in the relationship between Hatu and Hava.

I wouldn’t describe it as a problem, but there were times when I caught myself thinking: “Yes, they’re confused teenagers. We know. Get on with it!”   

With that said, I thoroughly enjoyed all the main characters, but especially Declan

I believe Hatushali will be an excellent protagonist; in King of Ashes, he’s a good protagonist. Because of how the character development and story is paced, I think he’ll become a more compelling character further into the story. 

Of course, I have no idea where this story is going. But, I would be surprised if we didn’t see these characters mature during the coming two books. 

If you are familiar with Feist’s previous work, King of Ashes reads a little younger than titles like The Rift War Saga. Instead, it compares to books like Prince of Blood, and The King’s Buccaneer or The Empire Trilogy

It’s not YA. It’s still complicated, epic fantasy, but it follows characters coming out of their teens, and it reads like it.  

photograph of a burning fire

FINAL THOUGHTS

When it comes to high-fantasy, I’m a binge reader. I can go months, even years without reading a single book, but once I start, I go into a fantasy bubble and devour title after title. 

When I crave fantasy Feist is an author that I often revisit.

He writes epic fantasy built on a foundation of now firmly established fantasy tropes, but he does it exeptionally well. 

As such, King of Ashes is an excellent fantasy book. The world is interesting, the characters well-defined, and the story off to a slow but intriguing start.  

In short, King of Ashes is a well-crafted story that’s hard to put down.


My Rating: 8/10

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