Review – Ashes of the Sun – Django Wexler
Ashes of the Sun by the excellently named Django Wexler is one of the lead titles of Ad Astra, the new imprint from Head of Zeus and kicks off his new Burningblade & Silvereye trilogy.
This book was my first chance to read any of Django Wexler’s work, although he’s already well known for his Magic and Muskets series, The Shadow Campaigns. What an introduction it was! Classing this book as Fantasy doesn’t really do it justice as it somehow also manages to incorporate, post-apocalyptic, dystopian, heist and even a steampunk-vice within a tight and exciting narrative.
We follow the siblings Gyre and Maya who, after being separated at an early age, take very different paths in their journey to save the world from imminent destruction. The narrative firmly follows a structure of alternating points of view from chapter to chapter, and despite rigidly sticking to this Wexler’s authorial skill means that both Gyre’s and Maya’s stories progress at a pace that keeps you sucked in. Unlike some novels with differing POVs, there’s never any disappointment, that “Oh no, not another Sansa chapter” feeling.
Both protagonists are compelling and convincing. The inciting incident, the reason for the sibling’s separation, is explained in a prologue chapter before the action begins and the different impact it had on each of them is evident both through their actions and internal musings.
The world that Django Wexler built isn’t as all-encompassing as some of the “Epic” fantasy series that exist. There’s no new languages, or great mythology as per Lord of the Rings, nor a hundred unnecessary side characters each with their own heraldry and genealogy, looking at you George. This is not a criticism of the book, by focusing only on his protagonists and their immediate interactions Wexler is free to actually tell a story, not a history, and Ashes of the Sun is all the better for it.
There are still memorable locations, a city built across a vast chasm torn into the ground by an unknown weapon of the Chosen, a sprawling slum built around the crashed hull of a vast Skyship, as well as memorable characters, the varying members of the Council of the Twilight Order, a crew of thieves and rebels living in underground tunnels. Wexler creates a world full of interest, rather than of detail.
Ashes of the Sun is, of course, also an action filled book with plenty of daring escapes and breathtaking duels between competing forces of magic. But it never feels forced, Wexler never stoops to action-for-the-sake-of-action. Each dramatic confrontation serves the greater purpose of driving the plot and the characters forwards towards the even greater conclusion.
One of the most striking parts of the work as a whole was how it managed to keep surprising me. After the first couple of chapters, it felt familiar, a story already told and I thought I had a grasp on how it would progress. I was wrong, the narrative twists and turns in unexpected ways without trying for a shock or surprise. The entwining of the two narratives feels effortless and natural, which undoubtedly means it actually took quite a lot of work to achieve!
Both the story of Ashes of the Sun, and the main characters Gyre and Maya, felt refreshing and new in a Fantasy genre that can be prone to stagnation or imitation of works that has come before. Perhaps that fact is more of an indictment of my own recent reading list which has heavily leant towards older, classical works in the genre, than a particular praise of this book and Wexler in particular. Nevertheless, to me it opened my eyes again to the fact that there is some spectacular modern writing in the genre that I need to catch up on!
Ashes of the Sun is, as I stated right at the start, the first book in the Burningblade & Silvereye trilogy and that’s something that I’m normally wary of. Many novels suffer from first in a series syndrome where their entire purpose is world-building and scenario-setting for the actual story the author wants to tell. Ashes of the Sun manages to, for the most part, avoid that trap. It’s an excellent self-contained novel, with a satisfying, unexpected conclusion in its own right. It was only right at the end, literally within the last few paragraphs, that I got the feeling that Wexler was suddenly at the point he wanted to be at to set up the rest of the series. It’s difficult to explain exactly what I mean here without massive spoilers for the book’s conclusion, so I’ll leave the point there.
There were a few, intriguing, unresolved plot hooks as would be expected from the opening novel in a series, one of them introduced right in Maya’s first chapter and which I had a feeling would be left open for the sequels.
Ashes of the Sun is a fun-filled, exiting, fast-paced fantasy romp that Django Wexler executes with impressive skill and precision. Not only am I already excitedly waiting for the second entry in the Burningblade and Silvereye trilogy, but I’m also going to be looking to pick up Wexler’s Shadow Campaigns series to keep me satisfied until the next installment.
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