Fiction Reviews


A Sword of Bronze and Ashes

(2023) Anna Smith Spark, Flame Tree Press,
£12.95 / Can$21.95 / US$16.95, pbk, 327pp, ISBN 978-1-787-58839-4

 

Kanda has a good life until shadows from her past return threatening everything she loves. And Kanda, like any parent, has things in her past she does not want her children to know. Red war is coming: pursued by an ancient evil, Kanda must call upon all her strength to protect her family. But how can she keep her children safe, if they want to stand as warriors beside her when the light fades and darkness rises?

All good things come to an end, especially good lives, and Kanda has a good life with a loving husband called Dellet, and three daughters called Calian, Morna and Sal. They have some land they call their own with animals that graze on it, but that world comes crashing down when a body floats down the river, and almost as if it didnít exist and that life meant nothing, they have to leave it all behind and flee. But, why? What does all this mean, and for Dellet and his daughters, questions have to be asked, like who is my wife? And who is my mother?

Thus begins an epic, grimdark, high fantasy horror novel, which is a lot of boxes to tick, but Spark ticks them all, and more, in this, the first of the series called 'The Making of a World Ruined'.

I have to confess that I have not read Anna Spark Smith before, but sheís already gathered the title of the 'Queen of Grimdark', and this novel is dark, through bloody, violent, events that happen throughout the novel, and all because of Smithís creations, the dark entities that will come after Kanda which are wonderfully original and very gruesome. Having not read an author before, I certainly feel a slight trepidation regarding their writing style and being able to get into, and then get lost in the novel. No worries on that front, and as a self-confessed reluctant reader, I was relieved to note that the story takes place in a little over three hundred pages across some 45 chapters, my kind of book, although some of the chapters are very short, less than a page or two, and Smith deploys some interesting narrative devices. One short chapter, looks like a series of stanzas, but it is the characterisation that is her major strength and Kanda is a wonderful creation. A middle-aged mother, living in the moment and trying to deal with all the trials of being a wife and mother to three children who want to become more independent. She isnít a sword and sorcery heroine, not anymore, she is inhabiting a changing skin, albeit a sagging one, and thatís not all the physical woes she has these days.

The story unfolds in a mixture of first and third person as Kanda and her family must deal with current events, but we also learn of the exploits of the legendary warriors known as the Six of Rovan. The story harks back to the oral traditions of the past, of the Celtic and Nordic races, maybe with a nod towards Arthurian legends and knights doing knightly-deeds, but it is very much Smithís own voice, and she has a distinct story-writing style that sometimes borders on stream of consciousness mixed with an almost cinematic/kaleidoscopic take on things which is refreshingly different.

All in all, A Sword of Bronze and Ashes is a novel written by a writer who is at the top of their game, who has their own unique voice, and take on the grimdark, high fantasy, and horror genres. I fully expect her to go from strength to strength and dominate these genres for the next few years. Recommended.

Ian Hunter

 


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