Where Ice Forged (Book One of The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga) was an interesting fantasy twist on post-apocalyptic fiction, Reign of Ash is an entertaining but forgettable story that spends far too much time focused on familiar fantasy tropes and vampires.
What does one do when a whole civilization built upon magic sees magic vanish completely from the world? It is a very novel question that Gail Z. Martin set into motion in book one and which I assumed would be the focus of this second novel in the series. So as Reign began, I envisioned gritty stories of those left behind’s struggle to survive as well as the spotlight being focused on the main character of the novel, Blaine McFadden, desperately trying to discover a way to return magic to the world. Unfortunately, Reign of Ash was not the novel I expected it to be.
Oh, Gail Z. Martin does focus much of the story on Blaine McFadden, but here he spends as much time trying to deal with his growing attraction for his female friend from Edgeland as he does dealing with the horrors of civilization crumbling. Sure, there are chapters that detail food shortages or pay lip service to the lawless state of the world, but it never seems that the harshness of life ever really touches Blaine or his companions. At every turn they find a former friend to help them or an ancient scholar leaving them clues or – God forbid – another cell of vampires wanting to serve and protect his important ass. So very quickly, it becomes fairly unbelievable that Blaine is living and traveling in a war torn and devastated land.
And as for our hero’s quest to restore magic back to the world, it soon turns into a connect the dots journey. One where all he and his friends have to do is go to Point A and find a marked book that then leads them to Point B where their benefactor has left instructions to Point C where they will find the sacred items needed to lead them to the hidden, magic city. Because there is a hidden, magic city. A place filled with mages, scholars, and an order of knights who are merely waiting for McFadden, or someone else of royal lineage, to connect the dots on their clues and arrive so they can begin the ceremony to reignite the flame of ordered magic in the world. Wham, bam, it’s over, man!
Well, actually it is not over; my review that is. I forgot to mention another problem with this novel: vampires. Let me just go ahead and admit it: I am not a vampire aficionado. Perhaps I have Twilight hangover or whatever, but they have lost their luster for me. Not that I hate them or dislike that other people adore them, because I don’t on either point. It is just that a little vampire goes a long way for me, especially in my fantasy stories, so when it became apparent in Reign that the vampires were going to play all the main roles in the story from all-knowing benefactors to Blaine’s primary protectors/guides to the villain trying to kill him I went into a diabetic-like coma from TOO MUCH VAMPIRE. My vampire level was way over the too much mark. Hell, it was almost to the death by vampire mark, and I had to quickly inject myself with some zombie gore from The Walking Dead to get my phantasmagoria level back in line. Once again, nothing inherently wrong with all the vampire love in Reign of Ash, but it wasn’t for me.
With all that critique aside, I want to be fair and say that – for all its missteps, in my opinion – I still enjoyed the novel. There were many fine moments throughout where the interaction between the characters was well-written, sincere, and heart felt. Especially entertaining were the times when Blaine and his friends journeyed out alone to discover this or that clue and surveyed the wreck of the world or stumbled into adventures that showed me firsthand the state of the world.
So, as you ponder whether to try Reign of Ash, just be aware that this is a novel about vampires, connect the dot quests, a very fortunate hero, and a post-cataclysmic world that seems pretty tame in comparison to other writer’s vision of the end of civilization. It is still an enjoyable read, but it does not stray far from the familiar, fantasy formula that longtime readers of the genre are accustom to.
I received this book from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank both of them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.