|Submitted by Christopher Ware |
(Dec 03, 2001)
This is the second part of THE BOOK OF ASH (following A SECRET HISTORY), the story of a female mercenary captain in an alternate 15th century Europe. This main alternate history story is framed by the story of a historian in the early 21st century translating a manuscript of this history. He is trying to uncover why we have never heard any of this history as it is being told in the manuscript. This all makes for a very engaging read because, not only does it draw the reader into the mystery, but we also get an extremely well told and realistic tale of a mercenary band in war torn medieval Europe. As in the first book, the reader is again deeply immersed in this reality through the author's use of vivid description, brilliantly imagined characters, and engaging plot devices.
I was tempted to give this book only three stars. The first fifty pages of the book, as well as the last hundred, were exciting and very engaging reading. Unfortunately, the middle two hundred or so pages did not do much to advance the story. The problem was that not much really happened. Sure, we learn some important back story and a lot of the relevant politics, but it was severely bogged down with superfluous scenes and interior monologues that could easily have been cut without losing anything from the story.
The main reason I didn't give it three stars was the fact that there were so many mysteries that were hinted at in the first book that were unearthed in this one that it made for some very interesting reading. We learn about Ash's past, what her voice really is, as well as more of the history of the world in which she lives. In addition, the final hundred pages were so full of action and military operations, that it was impossible to put the book down. This is the type of action that I had been expecting in a book about a mercenary captain that seemed so sorely lacking in the first book. The author also hits us with another revelation and an even bigger mystery in the last portion of the book. I couldn't wait to get to the next one in the series and see if we didn't find out what was truly going on.
Despite the shortcomings of the storytelling in the middle of the book, I still felt that this was a better than average fantasy story and, thus, felt compelled to give it a four star rating. If you enjoyed the first book in the series (and you'd better read it before trying this one), this one should also grab your attention. This is a must read series for any fantasy fan, especially for those who enjoy stories with a military bent.