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All around Major Konowa Swift Dragon, the world is in turmoil. The raise of the Shadow Monarch in the north and the return of powers from the sky has precipitated the imminent breakup of the Calahriam Empire. The great victory in the Hasshugbe Expanse feels like ashes on his tongue, with so many of his own Iron Elves fallen, alongside their human companions, and for what. The library they were sent to retrieve lies in ruins, burnt and destroyed. The Oath which binds Konowa and his people to Shadow Monarch remains, even Private Alwyn Renwar has become her emissary with control over the dead. The monarch remains a threat, her creatures plucked from antiquity continue to roam the land and her trees threaten the existence of everything. Only in the Shadow Monarch's destruction does Konowa see a future for the world and his people, regardless of how hard the road will be...
Ashes of a Black Frost is the third book in the Iron Elves trilogy by Chris Evans. There have been many genre crossovers, especially in the area of vampire novels, each author trying to inject something new into the field; something novel which will spark the audience’s interest, not only to whet the appetite but to satiate it as well. This trend has not been so strong in the field of fantasy, perhaps because the tropes and literary techniques are more deeply buried. Therefore it is a brave man who ponders what happens when the history of a fantasy world progresses. This isn’t something which Tolkien tackled, the age of man stopped before the industrial revolution, even though hints of the coming change can be seen in Sharky’s treatments of the Shire.
Evans has updated his fantasy world to approximately nineteenth century technology, replete with cannons, muskets and ships of the line. Being a fantasy novel there is also Elves, mystically malevolent foes and magic to contend with.
The novel concentrates on Konowa and although there is some shift in the stories perspective, it is predominantly his tale which we follow. I haven’t caught up with the first two books, so it’s difficult to know if the whole of the trilogy is told from his point of view, if so, then the author has relegated most of the supporting cast to little more than cyphers, used mostly to push the story forward. This problem extends to the world building which is sparser than would be expected.
Now both of these problems may have been addressed in the first two novels, but it makes this novel only partially successful as a standalone book. Evans obviously has a lot of loose ends to tie up and, for the most part, he does this successfully, although I’m still not sure what I felt about the final reveal, which is either going to be a disappointment or a brilliant surprise for regular readers of the series.
That is not to say that the book is badly written, Evans keeps the pace up throughout the four hundred and thirty-five pages of small dense text, which makes for a book which is good value for money. The romance works well as does the gradual moving together of the various plot threads. There is an internal logic to the magic which adds to the feeling of authenticity, this also covers the more marshal parts of the book and in many ways the nineteenth century elements work the best. Evans has a good ear for soldiers talk and military protocol. The book really shines in its battle scenes and it would be impossible not to compare it to Hornblower - well on land - or Sharpe.
To be fair to Evans I probably would have enjoyed the book more had I started with the first book, although the novel remains an enjoyable read, the focus on a single individual and the lack of world building just left me wanting to know more, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing in a trilogy.
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