Memories of Ash by Intisar Khanani

Memories of Ash, Intisar Khanani, The Sunbolt Chronicles, fantasy, YA

Published: June 2016 by Purple Monkey Press
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: The Sunbolt Chronicles #2
Genres: Fantasy, YA
Source: Author
Reading Challenges: Once Upon A Time X
Available: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This review contains spoilers for previous books.

In the year since she cast her sunbolt, Hitomi has recovered only a handful of memories. But the truths of the past have a tendency to come calling, and an isolated mountain fastness can offer only so much shelter. When the High Council of Mages summons Brigit Stormwind to stand trial for treason, Hitomi knows her mentor won’t return–not with Arch Mage Blackflame behind the charges.

Armed only with her magic and her wits, Hitomi vows to free her mentor from unjust imprisonment. She must traverse spell-cursed lands and barren deserts, facing powerful ancient enchantments and navigating bitter enmities, as she races to reach the High Council. There, she reunites with old friends, planning a rescue equal parts magic and trickery.

If she succeeds, Hitomi will be hunted the rest of her life. If she fails, she’ll face the ultimate punishment: enslavement to the High Council, her magic slowly drained until she dies.

I enjoyed Sunbolt but was unprepared for just how much I loved Memories of Ash.

Something else that caught me unprepared was the length: I was expecting it to be a novella, like its predecessor. The extra space gave the story a chance to delve more deeply into its themes, though it remained focussed. Elements of the plot that seemed like detours at first tied in to the main plot later down the track.

Memories of Ash falls roughly into two sections. The first part is pure adventure. After Hitomi’s mentor is unjustly arrested and taken for trial, Hitomi faces a choice between staging a rescue or hiding from those working against her mentor. Either way, she must leave the mountain valley that has been her home for the last year. This is a story not content to stay in one place, moving from tropical port city in Sunbolt to alpine mountains, magic-blasted wastelands, desert dunes and city. I mentioned diversity in my review of Sunbolt. Memories of Ash applies that diversity to landscape, filling each one with lived-in detail. Khanani brings to life a world that stretches beyond the stereotypical faux-medieval-Europe tropes.

She also brings the same variety to her monsters and magical races. Yes, there are werewolves–called lycans–but they’re not your typical half-wild, testosterone-pumped savages. Yes, there are vampires–two kinds, in fact. There’s also a phoenix, a tanuki and something like a kraken constructed of stone. Old favourites are given new twists.

The second part of the book is more heist, as Hitomi attempts to rescue her mentor. The magic system particularly comes into its own in this section as Hitomi attempts to negotiate the wards keeping her mentor imprisoned. I found these cleverly imagined and particularly enjoyed Hitomi’s encounter with a certain key.

However, the thing I loved most about the book was the motivations of the characters. In Sunbolt there were times where I wasn’t wholly convinced by Hitomi’s impulse to sacrifice herself for the sake of others, particularly in the cases where Hitomi hadn’t had much time to form a bond with the person for whom she was sacrificing herself. In Memories of Ash, it works. This is partly because she has more time to bond with other people, but mostly because she’s not the only one. Instead, a theme of honour plays out and characters must decide whether to act out of self-interest or to do what is right. This is a book where justice is held up as something worth fighting for and where the characters care about people other than themselves.

Ultimately, I found it an uplifting read that manages to be both fun and to challenge current trends in fantasy. Highly recommended.

To celebrate the launch of Memories of Ash, Intisar is running a giveaway. Readers from the US can win a Kindle Fire, while readers from Australia and the rest of the world are eligible for a $50 (USD) gift card for Amazon or an online bookstore of your choice. Enter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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