“Soul In Ashes” was originally created as four short novellas, but what I read was the first four “seasons”, and I must say, it’s much better to read these stories together instead of as short one off episodes. But, given the structure of how this book was crafted from these stories all revolving around one character and her struggles with an evil magic and vengeful / ignorant populace, it makes it an instant page turner. The reader follows along as Alswyn attempts to rebuild her life. Crippled after renouncing her evil ash magic and exiled by her people, she seeks sanctuary with a group of peaceful healers who have forsaken all violence. Only in their protective embrace can Alswyn heal, but there are bigger forces at play, forces that draw Alswyn back to the magic she has forsaken, the people who abandoned her, and the king of the rival country she grew up hating. It’s a compelling story, one that doesn’t start out with the goal of saving the world, but instead healing one princess, but that one good deed sets up a fun adventure all the way through each episode.
I don’t want to go too much into the plot of each episode just in case you want to read just one at a time instead of all four in one sitting. But as each “season” ends on a cliff hanger that gets picked up right off the bat in the next installment, you’re going to want to read these back to back. Alswyn is immediately sympathetic and it was refreshing to have a character who is cripple, who is struggling with learning how to function again, all while trying to atone for her mistakes. The reader instantly is rooting for Alswyn, and wanting her to succeed is made even easier because she seems to be surrounded by bastards who don’t believe her, trust her, or who just want her to suffer for eternity—this sometimes includes her own sister! Very few people seem to care for Alwysn, and each time she does something good, there is always just a little something bad in it that—believably—has those who didn’t trust her finding even more of a reason to dislike her. The author does a great job crafting her main character, and as it’s told in first person, that’s a good thing! Can you imagine hating the main character who told their tale in first person? Not fun…
My only issue with this quick read was in the world building and magic system. The world feels very small as we only ever get a small glimpse of it, and all the big players, the kings, their champions, their betrothed, are all related to one another or know one another, which makes the world feel even smaller. This also extends to the magic systems. The magic used isn’t well defined and you only see small parts of it. There is this whole backstory to the goddesses that oversee this world and bestow magic on their favored people, but you never see the true extent or limitations of those different magics. The author doesn’t take the time to really show the reader why ash magic is bad, it just is and apparently cannot be used for good like the other two magic types. Not slowing down the pacing of the book by world building is all right for a time, because I did really enjoy how quickly this book was to read and how invested I became in the main character, but I still wish Black had given us more of Alswyn’s world and defined her magic systems more. That aside, given there was no real violence, no bad language, and no graphic scenes of any kind or overly complicated language, this is a great read for readers as young as 13, as long as they enjoy fantasy with strong female leads! (And who doesn't love those?)
By the end of the fourth “season” I was yearning for more. The way it all ended… goodness! I want to know what happens next! I want to know what will become of Alswyn, King Ghalad, Koen, King Talroc, and Alswyn’s sister. I want to know if she succeeds at the quest she is given come the end of the book and if she’ll finally catch a break! Unfortunately, Black hasn’t listed the next compilation of “Soul In Ashes” yet, so I am forced to wait. But I hope it isn’t for long! But despite how much I want to continue on in this series, because of the mild world and magic building, I’m giving this fun book 4 stars and plead with the author to hurry up and get the next seasons out there. And thanks to the author for providing me with a copy to review!
Click the book images to see them on Amazon!