Reviewed by Ian Lipke
One has to resist the temptation to gush with superlatives when laying down this latest Feist feast. King of Ashes is the sort of book that Caligula and Nero would have welcomed as an affirmation of their world. In this world the bizarre is normal, and murder, deception, theft, kidnapping and magic are ever present in one form or another and seem to be recognized as quite normal behaviour.
It is not for me to tell Raymond Feist what subject matter to put in his story. The man has published well over thirty novels, many of which were bestsellers. Feist was born in Southern California and graduated from the University of Southern California at San Diego in Communication Arts. He has produced over ten series that were bestsellers. For that reason I don’t propose to fill out a review with material that is the story. Those readers who are new to this writer need only consult other reviewers to alert themselves to the fact that Feist has told stories some of which content (but disguised) has appeared in different ways in other series. [As an aside: I told my son that Feist had published over thirty books. He drew my attention to his library shelves. He has them all].
This is not a bad thing. If, in your book, a terrorist in today’s world is in hiding and wants to slip away without anyone being the wiser, you wouldn’t drop him into the ANZAC Day parade. Feist has no Anzacs, yet however his character hides, he needs to maintain a strict control over his immediate world. Hatu, having been placed for his own protection in a den of cutpurses, robbers and killers has his everyday life at risk, while hiding his identity from a murderous king whose mad ambition is to rid the world of the relatives and descendants of a king who was murdered sixteen years previously. Hatu is a very angry and often mixed-up individual who has been training at a school that owes its allegiance to the unseen army of Coaltachin. This school trains its members to excel in spying, robbery, and assassination. Hatu must keep his flaming red hair covered in grease to dampen its colour. His is the worst kept secret in four kingdoms. Yet the characters don’t seem to realise his identity. (But wait…this is Feist. The red hair could well be a red herring). There is a young girl called Hava training for her life alongside Hatu, growing up with and falling in love with this fiery youth. She has been given the task of killing him shortly into the future.
As usual Feist’s worlds are multidimensional and complex. Different cults and religions (only one of which is accepted by the authorities), political intrigue, histories and land features are all part of the mixture. We begin with the destruction of a kingdom, leaving four. The fifth was a place of gentility and charm and its king betrayed by his fellows in an unconvincing but deadly way. Each king of the remaining worlds lives in fear of a reprisal. A young man Declan from the sleepy town called the Narrows completes his apprenticeship and forges a sword fit for the gods, but has to flee with the secret of the sword to keep it from his enemies. His ambition is to become the world’s finest blacksmith. Supernatural beings clasp a ship and pull it underwater when Hatu and Donte, his friend, are on board. The beings recognize something about Hatu and let him go. We assume Donte drowns or has inhospitable things done to him, but as Book One closes we are reminded not to try to outguess Feist, because Donte returns and he is one cranky lad. This is a world of secret passwords that become hilariously complicated.
I was particularly interested in Feist’s writing styles. There is something otherworldly, and welcoming about a passage like the following:
Hatu tried to concentrate on the task at hand but something kept pulling his thoughts back to Hava, perhaps because he was returning to their home island and there was a slight chance he might see her again. He wondered why he felt such a void when he thought of her; perhaps because he had believed she would always be there, and then suddenly she wasn’t (209).
Long, compound sentences that flow as though they required minimal or no effort. “Hatu tried…but…perhaps..and” an important sentence as it defines the feelings Hatu has developed for Hava. A young, modern writer could never produce the smooth malt whiskey style with its periodic structure that charms the reader into waiting a little while. One employing this communicative style needs to be awake to the “show, not tell” mantra of the experienced writer, an error Feist commits but demonstrates his awareness of the problem.
“I’m going below.”
“Why?” Donte grabbed his arm.
“Food, water, whatever else we might need. Start getting that boat ready.”
Donte nodded. His expression communicated that he was more than content to cede the visit below to his friend” (214).
“His expression communicated” is a not unusual expression but feels as though there should be something other, a more appropriate way of making the point. A point I admit readily as being beyond me.
The slow leisurely development of the characters is the last point I will make. Hatu, Hava, Declan, and Daylon become better known to us as their time in Book One goes by. Daylon, for example, is like a low burning fuse. It is almost the end of the book before he recognizes that, throughout his life, he had “wondered about that man he saw in the mirror” (540).
A treasure of a book. Very highly recommended.
King of Ashes: the Firemaine Saga Volume 1
By Raymond E. Feist