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.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of Legacy Trilogy
Publisher: Orbit (April 9, 2020)
Length: 800 pages
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.