When I was reading this book, I was surprised this was a debut. It has the aura of an author really immersed in the spirit of teen fiction.
Meet Leona D’Auron. She’s the queen of Erenen, where, as she puts it, killing is their source of income. They basically have no trade agreements with outside lands. That’s been tradition for quite a while, including when her father was leader, before his horse cart fell off a cliff. Leona is also in an arranged marriage with a slimy guy named Aerok, and it becomes clear all of Leona’s father’s helpers intend to work politics as best they can while giving the excuse of more experience than her to supersede her views. Leona isn’t having any of it. She decides to use her upbringing of knowledge and forces the start of possible trade agreements, but the end of combat arenas where criminals fight each other till only one stands. She’s not going to let objections from her council stop her, but with an administration that isn’t behind her, her ruling may be quite rickety.
The beginning is one of the best ways to start a book I’ve read in ages. In life, fantasy or otherwise, there are laws, but it takes resources to enforce them, and sometimes whether the law will be respected is dictated by those with the weaponry, coin, and commitment to wreak havoc, aka, the resources.
When Leona enforces the release of all prisoners, it essentially means the end of a cherished sport by those privileged enough not to care that it is forcing people who may not even be charged as guilty yet to fight to the death. And there are things in lives that the privileged and carefree will fight to keep, and in this case it’s entertainment. Plus, the privileged people’s preconceived notions of the released prisoners give them fear of being robbed and attacked. Leona having to pay the price for her groundbreaking decision was both harrowing, realistic and monumentally infuriating. I was forced to ask myself how I would react if I loved a sport and it got not just cancelled but outlawed. Would I be willing to listen to the corruption and torture that caused it to be shut down? I like to think so, but so many in the world wouldn’t. When it focuses on the fact a disgraced princess and a brutalized warrior fresh out of the slammer have to try and take back a kingdom and town that hates their guts, it’s deliciously entertaining. It’s the sort of story that grips you, because it’s so easy to get invested in the basic idea of fighting those intolerant to your views.
Some of the delicious fast pace gets diluted after the second half of the book while getting to know side characters who aren’t quite as interesting, and there’s a third act that gets a little weird (why would Leona’s sworn enemy let her sleep in the same bed as him, as he’s sleeping, without proper cuffing?). But I will admit, this is beautiful work. Alex Shobe’s writing is naturally medieval and scrumptiously edgy. She’s always immersed in the crumbling, poverty-stricken non-technological world she’s crafted.
The ending may be a tad discomforting to some, but there’s also a sense of satisfaction that, when you compare it to the world right now, makes you wish for a similar kind of revolution resolution. Ashes of Revival is a book that understands sexism, classism, and the dangers of rulers who thrive under said isms. The book’s going to be released September 25th.
If you like this, I’d try Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas, another book about an accidental female ruler, whose gender is the main cause for a wave of distrust within her command and attempts on her life.
My review of the book is now available on Reedsy Discovery here.