Review: ASHES OF THE SUN by Django Wexler

Publisher: Orbit Books
Release Date: July 21st, 2020
Page Count: 592
Rating: 4/5 Stars – Really Liked It

Note: I was provided an ARC of this book by the publisher in return for my fair and honest review.

Ashes of the SunTwelve years ago, five-year-old Maya was taken from her family to be raised by the Twilight Order, protectors of the realm whose members are gifted with the ability to channel and manipulate deiat.  It is the Order that clears out plaguespawn and hunts down practitioners of dark arts.  To present-day Maya, there is no nobler calling.  But what Maya doesn’t remember about her childhood is that the day she was taken was the day her family was effectively destroyed.  Left with the ruins, her older brother Gyre has vowed to destroy the Order that so casually wields technology and power that it denies to regular humans on the grounds that it is “too dangerous” for them.  When rumors of an incredibly powerful relic begin to surface, both Maya and Gyre begin to investigate, unknowingly putting them on a collision course as they race to obtain the item before anyone else.

ASHES OF THE SUN exists in the grey space between science-fiction and fantasy, creating a world that felt fresh yet familiar at the same time.  The book frequently brings to mind the quote “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  The people of this world live in the literal ruins of the peoples who came before them: the Chosen and the ghouls. A terrible war centuries ago destroyed both civilizations, taking their knowledge of technology with them.  The remaining humans have survived over the centuries by picking through the ruins and scavenging what they can, only able to make some of it work.  As a result, “arcana” can be used to describe everything from alchemical creations to blaster guns to the ability to channel elemental powers.

The resulting world-building is the kind that is easy to sink into.  There are towering ruins of crashed skyfortresses, communities that live in tunnels and swap recovered bits of arcana, land features that are the  destructive result of massive weapons once used by previous civilizations.  It’s rough, and grimy and with the constant threat of plaguespawn attack (and the descriptions of plaguespawn are the stuff of literal nightmares). I enjoyed how the world had old and new mixed all into one, but most importantly, the world felt lived in, with attention given to how different pockets of humanity adapted to the ruins around them.

As for the characters that inhabit this world, they are solidly done, particularly lead characters Maya and Gyre.  The chapters alternate between their POVs, as Maya contends with a conspiracy within the Order, and Gyre reckons with how much collateral damage he’s willing to accept in his quest to bring the Order down. I really appreciated that each POV showed two completely different sides of this world, almost literally night and day in difference. I also want to shout out Kit, a young woman who enters Gyre’s life to offer him a deal on behalf of a third party.  Kit loves to exist on the knife’s edge of life and watching her make snap decisions and roll with the consequences was a treat. Meanwhile in Maya’s POV, Beq is a cinnamon roll that I will defend with my life.

There is also great use of magic and battle sequences in ASHES OF THE SUN.  As the Order relies on a bladeless hilt that channels energy to form the actual blade, I know it is easy to compare these warriors to another famous franchise.  But even here, the author has given the magic a twist.  Every warrior of the Twilight Order manifest their powers differently.  Maya conjures fire, her mentor uses air and wind, still another manifests his attacks through sonic thunderwaves. And that power isn’t just limited to the blade, but to actual attack magic as well, making for some spectacular fights, particularly in one duel sequence between two characters.

ASHES OF THE SUN evokes the expansive feel of some of my favorite sci-fi shows, the kind of world-building that gives you a sense that this place has History (and from what is teased in the lore, it most certainly does).  The struggle for the future of the Dawn Republic is just beginning, and I’ll be eagerly waiting to see how it unfolds.



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