Ash and You Shall Receive

‘Age of Ash,’ first in a fantasy trilogy from one of the creators of ‘The Expanse’

The new novel from Daniel Abraham proves the enduring appeal of magical feudal times. As one of the creators of The Expanse and a frequent collaborator with George R.R. Martin of Game of Thrones — often adapting him for graphic format—Abraham has both hard science fiction and feudal fantasy in his locker and it’s the latter that he whips out for his new trilogy.

Age of Ash, the first book in the Kithamar Trilogy, is a sure-handed introduction to a new world. Centering on the namesake city we follow Alys and Sammish, two young Inlisc women as they come of age and find themselves caught up in epic, magical courtly intrigues. Though the name Kithamar is distractingly similar to the site of Star Trek’s iconic Khitomer Massacre it is fun and page-turning; it’s easy to read, but easy to forget.

Age of Ash
‘Age of Ash,’ by Daniel Abraham. (Orbit Books)

Abraham’s writing is evocative and cinematic. From the moment that the “camera” soars over the city to alight on our heroines in their scrappy Longhill neighborhood the reader is at home. In fact, whether because Kithamar is not a particularly original location or whether because Abraham is such an excellent and visual writer, the reader feels almost as though they are entering the second season of a Netflix series.

As befits a trilogy named for a city, this first installment takes us around the city’s eery river Khahon and its residential neighborhoods. We start in the working class Longhill, visit the stochastic lands of the Silt and proceed to the wealthy stone compounds of Green Hill where power lies. Abraham invites us into the space of the city, as well as its seasons. They illustrate the passage of time and the consequent development of growing women, playing crucial roles in the plot, especially the “thaw” which transforms the frozen city into a fluid dramatic stage.

The plot involves apparently mirrored sets of characters: the good guys align one way, the bad guys align the other but we don’t know which is which! Each side has a similar cast—a young woman with a grizzled older male supporter—struggling for control of a child and a magic object and, presumably, for power that they can unlock. How will Alys and Sammish react? How will their relationship fare?

Abraham knows how to keep enough suspense to tantalize but not enough to torment. And, also, ready for the second book of the trilogy, he has established certain locales and hinted at others, both in the city and beyond. And, while killing some characters, he maintains others; good, evil and a whole faction that we know is out there but whose motives remain chaotic unknown.

The only real fly in Age of Ash is that it has little heft. Readers certainly don’t need every book to have the page count or existential philosophy of Crime and Punishment, but for this novel to be memorable it should convince you to care about Alys, Sammish or Kithamar itself. It’s possible the protagonists are more appealing to other demographics, but I’m an avowed urbanist the same age and gender as Abraham and, though interested, am not desperate for the ongoing stories of Alys, Sammish or Kithamar.

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Dan Friedman

Dan Friedman is the former executive editor of the Forward and the author of an ebook about Tears for Fears, the 80s rock band. He has a PhD from Yale and writes about books, whisky and the dangers of online hate. Subscribe to his newsletter.

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