Brilliant and breathtaking, Ashlords is fresh young adult fiction. Set in a world where the invaders have become the enslaved and where phoenix horses die in flames only to be reborn from the ashes at morning light, this is a intriguing addition to YA fantasy.
Stylistically, the chapters are told from the perspective of three race participants, whose purposes and stakes vary greatly. This narrative style is popular in young adult novels but the author diverges a little bit from the formula, which keeps things innovative. First, the three narratives and individuals only touch each other peripherally; this is a book of three stories that happen to be occurring at the same event (not of three entwined stories…at least, not yet). Second, Imelda and Adrian’s accounts are in first person, but Pippa tells her account in the second voice, utilizing “you” instead of “I” as she reports what she is thinking and what is happening to her. This is terribly effective in reinforcing that she is part of the ruling class (as if she is invoking the “royal we”) and demonstrating her sense of entitlement. Nice stylistic narrative touches all the way around.
The plentiful action, nice twists, suspense, life and death, and alternating viewpoints all make this a page-burner and a pleasure to read. The race concludes in this book, but the true story is only beginning with book two of this series slated for early 2021. Highly recommended read for all young adult action, dystopian, or fantasy readers!
Profanity/Language: 22 mild obscenities; 1 derogatory name; 1 scatological word.
Violence/Gore: Character tries to grab another; brief struggle knife and sword; report of deaths in previous wars with execution of firstborns, no details; report of death of parent; reference to murder in prior races and footage of the act is replayed on a screen; verbal threats; reports someone shoved someone off the cliffs; a death by poisoning; knife thrown at someone; hand deliberately sliced; references to blood sacrifices; a couple of instances where horses’ ashes are sabotaged; training with weapons; phoenix horses die every night and this is shown in several different scenes, in one scene the rider speeds the death up by running a sword through his horse (not in a merciful way); planning and talk of war; riders attack other riders with whips while racing; horse attacks another horse and draws blood, while racing; 2-3 page fight scene where brutally beaten character is left barely alive; fight with whips among characters, one knocked unconscious and other falls from cliff with severe injury; report of death of a horse; pursuit by a fantasy creature, whip used in defense; scene with shooting, chase, mention of blood, and deaths; character burnt to death by phoenix horse; character is killed; character cuts hand to give blood to another; racing characters whip horse, use whip to break another’s wrist; magical force knocks someone from saddle resulting in serious injuries; multi-page battle scene with shooting, explosives, death (mostly general descriptions); character beat/hit in head and driven to knees.
Sex/Nudity: Characters have a romantic relationship; characters kiss; reference to men desiring a female; dream with a kiss on the cheek; character allows suggestive pictures of her to be taken and sold (not nudes, but incident is still scandalous) and there are rumors about this; mating ritual of a fantasy beast is explained.
Mature Subject Matter:
Death, treason, rebellion, discrimination, persecution, blood sacrifices to fantasy gods.
Alcohol / Drug Use:
Alcohol consumed by all ages at a formal event; mention of bar; character smokes.