Book Review: Legacy of Ash by Matthew Ward

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Legacy of Ash by Matthew Ward

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Legacy Trilogy

Publisher: Orbit (April 9, 2020)

Length: 800 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Reading-wise, this has been a month of ups and downs, with plenty of surprises but also some disappointments. Then there are books like Legacy of Ash by Matthew Ward which fell somewhere in the middle, making it a tough one to rate. You know how it is with epic fantasies—especially debuts. Often they are highly ambitious, full-hearted, and brimming with potential, but at the same time, you just can’t but feel there’s something holding them back. Sometimes it’s easy to put your finger on why exactly, but other times the problem is harder to spot because it may be a combination of little things compounded. I suspect this might be the case here, for while I was unable to find any major fault with this novel, I never really found myself hooked by it either.

Of course, the story’s scope may be a factor. Boiling it all down into a couple paragraphs for this review is going to be tough, but for context, the main conflict at the heart of Legacy of Ash is a rivalry between two factions. On one side of this dispute is the Tressian Republic and its champion Victor Akadra, trying his best to keep the peace within his realm, and on the other side is the Southshires, represented by Josiri and his younger sister Calenne. As the last two remaining heirs of Phoenix, who headed the insurrection against Tressia fifteen years ago, the siblings are political figureheads of a sort, doing their best to keep their heads down while trying to honor their mother’s memory and cause. But Josiri isn’t sure how long he can keep toeing the line as he comes under more and more pressure to rise up against the true authority in the south, held by the very man who killed his mother and crushed her rebellion.

However, few are aware just how tenuous Viktor’s position truly is. Although he is hailed as a hero, he harbors a dark secret, and knows how quickly the tides would turn against him if it is discovered. He is also a warrior and not a diplomat, the council’s politicking often leaving him out of his depth. Meanwhile, a new threat looms on the horizon in the form of an invading army from the Hadari Empire. Beset with enemies within and without, the Tressian Republic will need every single one of its defenders, even if it means old foes will need to set aside generations of animosity and hatred to work together.

Putting it that way, the premise behind Legacy of Ash seems pretty straightforward—even simple, almost. In reality though, many more characters and minor plot arcs are threaded through this main framework, fleshing out the novel. We’re offered a glimpse into every part of the world and a voice for each side of the conflict, thanks to the sheer number of characters and their perspectives. Here, Ward’s extensive background as a world designer and architect of tabletop games makes itself obvious; you can feel his passion for world-building and character and story development behind every detail and plot point. As a lover of RPGs, I definitely appreciated his effort to put together this robust setting and craft a sense of place right down to the smallest detail.

Still, what works for a tabletop campaign might not be ideal when it comes to an epic fantasy novel. You want to provide all the right elements in the right amounts without overwhelming the reader, and finding that balance can be tricky. If your story is going to be told through multiple POVs, for example, you’ll also need to develop each one fully so that their personalities resonate, and on this point, Legacy of Ash suffers a bit. Simply put, I felt myself inundated with POVs from the get-go, and they just kept coming. While following along wasn’t a problem—I’ve had enough experience with this genre—I found myself struggling to care about or feel invested in any of these characters. To be fair, I think effort was clearly made to balance page time and attention between all of them, but it wasn’t enough. There was no emotional attachment, interest in their relationships or concern over the outcome of their fates. As characters are what usually motivates me to keep reading, perhaps it’s no surprise that some parts presented a struggle.

Legacy of Ash left feeling torn as a result. After all, the technical aspects are strong, including the skill of the writing, tightness in the plotting and details of the world-building. What it lacked though, was something that’s maybe more personal, which left me feeling cold and neither here nor there, unable to tell if I truly enjoyed myself or not. That said, I do place high importance on characters, and when I can’t get into them, that tends to impact my experience heavily. My opinion is in the minority here though, with plenty of others having loved this book, so don’t let my review sway you from checking it out if you’re looking to try a new epic fantasy and the synopsis intrigues you. Despite the flaws I found it, it’s a decent and well-written debut that would appeal to the right audience.

29 Comments on “Book Review: Legacy of Ash by Matthew Ward”

  1. I felt the same way about AJ Smith’s stuff. Though the world and characters were intricately designed and detailed, their interactions were… less so. And this is Ward’s debut, right? Transitioning between a designing a game and writing a book is hard, I suspect. But hopefully it only gets better from here!

    Sorry you didn’t love it! I’m always torn on the really, really long books that I don’t adore because sometimes I feel that I wasted all that time on them, y’know?

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    • Yes, it’s a debut. I always feel that certain ones have a sense of “urgency” to them, almost like the author is overly excited about their first novel and feels the need to throw everything but the kitchen sink into their story, and it’s like, Slow down! Just develop things at their own pace and not worry about stuffing all your ideas into one basket. There was some of that here, I think. He may have gotten a bit overzealous with the POVs 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review! Always hard when you don’t fully connect to the characters!
    I’m very interested in picking this one up!

    (www.evelynreads.com)

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    • I’m the same way! I guess it’s because the genre has seen so many more of them come out in recent years. Only a few have been standouts, and sometimes I just don’t have the energy to invest in a 800+ tome only to be let down.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The mixed reviews I’ve read so far have considerably dampened my enthusiasm for this book, although my curiosity still remains high. I’m aware of how difficult it might be for a debuting author to completely involve readers, and that this might entail some problems, but still it sounds as if this novel needs some more “harsh” editing. But I might give this one a chance, nonetheless…
    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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    • Yeah, I saw a lot of reviews mentioning the same issues regarding too many POVs and lack of connection to characters. I don’t know what kind of editing would have helped improved this aspect, but definitely some more “oomph” to the characters would have helped. I hope you get a chance to try it, and if you do, I hope you’ll enjoy 🙂

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  4. What is with debuts and monster sized tomes? *mini rant ahead*

    I consider it nothing but pure, unadulterated arrogance on the author’s part. They assume that they are SO good that even though they’ve never written a book before that suddenly they can pretty much write a double novel. Not only that, but they EXPECT us the readers to wade through it and spend our precious time on it, even though said author has absolutely no social capital to spend. Arrogance, arrogance, arrogance.

    *rant over*

    Whew, just had to get that out. Your description reminds me of how I felt about Gwynne’s books. That was a real wake up call for me and now whenever I see a huge cast of characters I give the book the sideways glance.

    Like

    • Haha, it’s a trend for sure when it comes to epic fantasy authors and their monster-sized debuts. It could be hubris, but I think a part of it also might be over-eagerness, and I talk about a bit of that in my comment to Will above. Either way, more editing should help in a lot of these cases.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s tough to think about diving into an 800 page book when it’s getting mediocre reviews from lots of people, but I’m still curious about this one.

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  6. Ahhh sorry to hear that this didn’t work out as much as you’d have hoped it did, Mogsy! Its scope is indeed pretty huge and almost demands from the reader a bit more patience than necessary to be convinced by it all. I wonder if the sequel will do a better job in sharpening the direction though. Great review nonetheless. 🙂

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  7. I agree with several of the others, the size alone gives me pause, though it’s not a deal breaker. This sounds like the sort of book I might enjoy if in the right mood. If not in the right mood I might end up feeling as you did about it, especially because I also most often prefer character to world-building. So I’m going to keep it as a potential future read, but maybe a bit lower down the list. I appreciate the balanced review.

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    • Mood’s definitely a factor, but I also find myself having less patience with doorstopper fantasy tomes these days! I have to be hooked within the first 100 pages or chances are the rating will suffer. Part of the problem with this one was the way we flipped so frequently from POV to POV that in 100 pages I felt like I barely got to know any of the characters. Unfortunately the momentum never recovered, even though the story got more interesting :\

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  9. Well put review, echoes a lot of my feelings on it. Technically it does a lot of things right, but it just didn’t make me FEEL for the characters in the way I would have hoped.

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  10. This sounds like the age old conundrum of heart over mind and it sounds like there simply isn’t enough ‘heart’ to win you over.
    I don’t mind reading 800 pages – I just don’t want it to ‘feel’ like I’ve read 800 pages.
    Lynn 😀

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  11. I’ve heard similar thoughts on this one from other reviewers. Sorry this one was so mixed, especially as it’s a TOME, so that’s a lot to spend your time on. At least it wasn’t a total loss though.

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  13. Ah. I’m definitely finding epic fantasy a harder sell these days – give me a chewy 400-500 page stand-alone and I’ll weep there’s no sequel, but set me up with book one heading for 1000 pages and…ooph. It’s a big ask. I think I’ll stay on the fence about this one – especially as I share your attachment to characters, however big a soft spot I have for world-building. A world still needs people you care about!

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