King of Ashes is the first in a new series by fantasy author Raymond E. Feist and is the first not to be set in his Midkemia setting. My thanks to HarperCollins Canada and Raymond E. Feist for the early eArc. King of Ashes is released on May 8th and as such I will keep this review as spoiler-free as possible.
On a personal note, I credit Mr. Feist with reawakening my love of reading; after studying literature at university I couldn’t stand to read anything more involved than a Cosmo magazine. Then a friend put a copy of Shadow of a Dark Queen into my hands and I’ve not stopped reading since. He is a master storyteller. It’s always “have to read one more page, one more chapter.” then before you know it, it’s 6am and you have to get ready to go to work…
For those of you unfamiliar with Feist’s earlier work, there are 30 novels in his Riftwar series starting with 1982’s Magician and ending with 2013’s Magician’s End. My personal recommendation is to start with Magician as a good introduction to the world – be aware it does drag in parts – or the four books of the Serpentwar Saga – storytelling at its finest.
Anyway, onto King of Ashes. This is set in the new world of Garn and centres around two young men, Hatu, the unknowing secret heir of the betrayed King Steveran and Declan, a young blacksmith at the peak of his craft. Events force our two protagonists to flee their homes and plunges them into an adventure that promises to change their lives and the future of Garn itself..
Worldbuilding. Naturally, it’s not reasonable to expect a world that is as fully developed as Midkemia, on which Feist worked for over 30 years. That said, there are clear indications that a lot of thought has gone into Garn already and that it is going to be a wonderful place to get to know. There are distinct cultures, history and religions and I look forward to seeing how the place grows. One aspect I would have liked to have seen developed more fully at this point is the magic system. In the whole 512 pages, it is only touched upon briefly, although there are definite hints of magical forces.
Characters. I enjoyed spending time with both our protagonists, probably more so Declan than Hatu. Both characters had distinct arcs in the story, although it was clear they are both still at the beginning of their journeys. I look forward to seeing where they go from here. The supporting characters were also interesting, and well developed, and a couple of them led to intriguing hooks for book two. it’s too early to say yet whether either of them will be a Pug, a Jimmy the Hand or a Miranda from the earlier series.
Plot. I would say that the focus of King of Ashes is on worldbuilding and character development, somewhat to the detriment of plot. As the first book in a new series, especially one set in a new world, there is a great deal of heavy lifting to do in order to set the scene. Much of the storyline seems to be focused in getting characters and plot points in place for the next stage of the saga. As as self-contained story, I didn’t find King of Ashes particularly satisfying, but I have great faith that it will pay off in future books.
In summary, if you are hoping that King of Ashes will be a great stand alone story you may be disappointed. It is very obviously the setup for greater things to come and as such I personally feel it is worth the investment.