One of the supporting characters in this novel says somewhere towards the end of the book: “This is a long first act, brother.”

I have to say I agree.

King Of Ashes is the first book in veteran fantasy author Raymond E. Feist’s latest series, The Firemane Saga.

Now, the first book of any series usually bears the task of introducing all the important and supporting characters, establishing their backgrounds, motivations, relationships, etc.

Of course, there may be new ones introduced in later books, but your main protagonists – and usually, also the villains – are likely to make their appearance in the introductory tome.

World-building is also a crucial aspect of the first book in any speculative fiction series.

The trick is to manage both these tasks as well as tell a story that draws the reader in, so that they will want to pick up the sequel.

Now, King Of Ashes accomplishes the first task quite admirably.

The story mainly follows its two main characters: Hatu and Declan, telling their tales alternately, although it does also divert occasionally to a couple of other important supporting characters.

Feist

Hatu is an orphan and an outsider, characterised by his distinctive copper gold hair and his constant simmering anger, being brought up in the traditions of the secretive island nation of Coaltachin, whose main exports are criminals, spies and assassins.

Unknown to him, he is also the sole surviving heir of the Firemane line, which once ruled the kingdom of Ithrace – one of the five kingdoms on the two continents of Tembria.

As a baby, he was saved from the complete slaughter of his family, after his father, King Steveren, was betrayed by his fellow monarchs.

Fate placed him in the hands of the powerful Baron Daylon Dumarch, who was his father’s friend and ally, but betrayed him for the sake of his people.

It is Dumarch who hands him over to the Coaltachins, paying them to raise him until he reaches manhood at the age of 17, whereupon he is to be brought to the baron.

Meanwhile, fellow orphan Declan has just achieved the rank of master smith, after working under renowned master weapon-smith Edvalt Tasman since he was five.

With the peace slowly breaking down under King Lodavico of Sandura’s desire for more power, Declan is forced to leave his village in the once-neutral territory of the Covenant and seek his fortune in the wider world.

He also carries with him the secret of how to make jewel steel, a rare metal of extraordinary strength and durability – a trade secret mastered by only a few smiths.

Raymond E. Feist. Photo: Singapore Writers Festival 2014

Raymond E. Feist. Photo: Singapore Writers Festival 2014

Declan also has a rather unexpected connection to Baron Dumarch – a connection I suspect may come into play later in the series.

Feist’s experienced hand ensures that the world-building is interesting, with continents once at peace slowly edging towards war, a country run by highly-skilled criminals, a religion on the rise to power, and hints of magic and monsters underlying it all.

The world of Garn is certainly interesting enough for an enjoyable read, just don’t expect anything too original.

The story itself is my main concern.

I can usually power through a book like this in a day or two if it really absorbs me, but it was just not compelling enough to keep me up in the wee hours of the morning.

There’s a lot of travelling here and there by our protagonists, lots of introspection by Hatu and things do happen to the characters, but by the end of the book, it just mostly felt like Feist was establishing his characters and moving them around to the right places in preparation for the next book.

You can feel that there’s definitely going to be a huge dust-up later in the series, complete with possible betrayals and difficult decisions, but it’s mostly anticipation and setting things up in this book.

It’s the characters who are holding up this novel, so chances are your enjoyment of this book will be dependent on how much the characters engage you.

Or, it might be worthwhile checking out the sequel first before backtracking to this tale for background.

(PS: There are also a handful of obvious spelling mistakes in this particular edition – have fun spotting them!)


King Of Ashes

Author: Raymond E. Feist
Published: Harper Voyager