Django Wexler presented me with a conundrum after finishing his newest book, Ashes of the Sun. Ashes is the first book in the Burningblade & Silvereye series, and on the one hand, Ashes is really good, and I am frothing at the mouth to get my hands on the next book in the series. On the other hand, Ashes tells a perfected version of a story I have seen in numerous fantasy books and makes me feel like I wasted days of my life reading other lesser books when I could have just read Ashes and saved time. So as you can see, I both love and resent this book for making other authors look like amateurs.
Ashes of the Sun has a number of plot elements that you have likely seen in existing fantasy stories. The world of Ashes is this post-apocalyptic fantasy hellscape. The reader learns early on that there once was a war between the Chosen – (over)zealous elemental magic users with divine power – and the Ghouls – biomancers with a penchant for sculpting flesh and machine into powerful combinations. The war between the Chosen and the Ghouls ravaged the lands and ended up killing both of them by the end of the war. Now, the only surviving semblance of either faction is a group of mages that served the Chosen, called The Twilight Order. The Order consists of humans who have a connection to magic at birth and are gathered from families at a young age by force to be trained as warriors. The Order’s job consists of essentially monitoring old magic and artifacts from the war and policing them so they don’t end up in the hands of regular humans. Part of this monitoring involves the tracking down and removal of Plaguespawn, bioweapons left laying around that eat people if they aren’t dealt with.
The protagonists are siblings that are separated at a young age. The prologue starts with them living on their family farm – Gyre, the older boy, looking after some livestock while Maya, the younger girl, runs around being a cute toddler. This gets interrupted when a member of the Twilight Order comes to scout Maya for initiation. When The Order mage tries to take her from her family by force, Gyre stands up to the caster and gets horribly maimed. While Maya ends up dropped into The Order for the next twelve years, Gyre starts to explore remnants of Ghoul technology left over from the war to enhance his body. The two siblings naturally end up on opposite sides of a very complicated conflict and must sort out the best way to move forward.
The thing about Ashes of the Sun is it has enormous depth. It’s a little difficult to explain, but the book’s power comes from all the small details. Nothing about this book is surface level; everything has been meticulously considered and thought out, breathing a huge amount of life into the world and characters. The world is fascinating and the Ghouls and Chosen have a lot of flavor. The clash of magic and technology is easy and intuitive for the reader to grasp, and neither side is painted as a black and white villain. The post-apocalyptic landscape is original and engaging. Reading about how salvagers dig for relics, or how the surviving humans retrofit the Chosen and Ghoul cities after the war to meet their needs, is enthralling. Every part of this world just aggressively pulls you in and makes you want more – and the worldbuilding isn’t even the best part.
My personal favorite thing about Ashes is our protagonists, Gyre and Maya. Both are complex, relatable POVs that go through an enormous amount of growth, and you can very clearly understand how they were shaped by their different upbringings. Most importantly, their relationship with each other is complicated, interesting, and believable. I have read around five “sibling on other sides of the war” stories in the last few years, and this one makes the rest look like they are bumbling around in the dark. Gyre and Maya have the perfect balance of love, respect, and distrust of one another and it’s like falling into an immersion riptide. And this doesn’t even take into account the fact that each protagonist has a colorful and memorable support cast that I hated at first, but would die for by the end of the book. Wexler’s ability to grow characters is impressive.
In addition, the plot of the book is exciting. This is not a slow read, with the pacing resembling an out of control brushfire. The book bounces you from small conflict to small conflict while using the time to slowly expose the reader to the world and how it works. By the time you are able to take a breath, the larger objectives and mysteries start to come into focus and the scope expands to a much larger scale. On top of this, the action is awesome. Maya and the rest of the order fling the elements about in flashy and explosive ways, while Gyre and the Ghouls build these nightmares that stretch the imagination and boggle the mind.
I aggressively recommend Ashes of the Sun as one of the strongest books to come out in 2020 so far. I was a fan of Wexler’s older work, but Ashes is a noticeable step up in worldbuilding, characterization, and general prose. I have earmarked this as one of my most anticipated series in years and I highly recommend that you don’t sleep on this one. Come see what all the buzz is about in this climactic first book in the Burningblade & Silvereye series.
Rating: Ashes of the Sun – 10/10