“Regret is a poison every bit as malicious as revenge.”
Edward Knight’s second book in the Ashes Saga picks up where we left off, with Dagan wandering around the city with no purpose, only a past fire to guide his way. But that aimless shamble doesn’t stop him. He watches men get killed in broad daylight, as if time has stopped, and he is filled with not dread or worry, but a wish to do just that. Dagan decides he’s going to learn a bit more about magic and about the Black Brotherhood. On his own.
However, curiosity is a dangerous thing.
One coincidence leads to another, and the boy whose idol broke away from the Black Brotherhood joins it. And I think this unclear motivation is the biggest waste. Dagan is not in it for revenge. I don’t agree that he’s in it against his will. I think the crux of the matter is a far deeper and more personal thing. I think Dagan joins the Black Brotherhood because he wants power. He saw what their leader could do; he saw the power his previous mentor could wield, and he’s heard about the ability of Helios, their founder.
He wants control. But Knight never tells us this.
“But the desire for power is a truly wicked thing. Once you get your first taste, a foreign thirst comes to life within you. Those who succumb to it are the damned. Theirs is an unquenchable thirst.”
Instead, he focuses on Dagan’s pitiful minutiae. Repetition is the name of the game. Doesn’t matter if something important happened five pages back, something we couldn’t forget. It’s going to get repeated so we don’t.
This approach is annoying to say the least. Many paragraphs could’ve been cut without any harm done. There is way too much repetition going on here; Knight holds your hand, worried that you’ll forget Dagan’s dark and dreary past.
Or maybe it’s just a simple bit of telling rather than showing. Yes, that frustration continues into the second. As does the clichés.
While Knight has managed to distance himself from Rothfuss this time around, he instead draws from everyday tropes: school bullies that after the hero wins the fight, they become his best friend; the evil teacher that tortures the hero; the religion that is evil beyond question, and the corrupt church; and my personal favorite, the unoriginal name for towers, the Eyrie.
I mean, how hard is it for the protagonist to find friends easily, to have respectable teachers that aren’t trying to kill the idiot of a narrator, or to have a church that isn’t solely bad? Granted, all of these are harder than creating a new word, but that’s not the point. Originality is dead. But when you throw in everything you can to show this world is terrible, that the hero had a rough life, and focus on the clichés of this particular story arc, then do I find it irksome.
The Eyrie was just the icing on the cake.
“A story grows in the telling.”
However, while Knight’s second book had more problems than his debut, there was a lot I did enjoy.
The cast and characterization was stronger. There were varied people littered here and there, and that was a nice change from the three or four we saw from the first. On the flipside, Dagan is a bigger ass than before. Not only does his flippant, casual asides break tension, they show how much of a pompous, unsympathetic idiot he is.
Knight is trying to be too serious, too brooding and mopey, and fails to remember that the reader is intelligent. I don’t need to be told this when I want to see it for myself.
On this regard, Knight does do a good job of flexing the magic system about. While we don’t get a detailed description of the inner workings, we do see more, and that’s a fresh change. Right now, the magic here is wild yet solid, and that’s not something I’ve read about with this new wave of structured, scientific fantasy going around.
But it does need more consequences and prices. Growing scales is not a real problem, I think. Dagan is said to be one of the best sorcerers in the world, and yet I don’t remember him being described as a reptile in the tavern.
“Do not act when your judgment is influenced by the lies of emotion.”
I think the main problem is that we have here a rushed book. It’s shorter than his debut, and littered with more mistakes than I can shake a stick at. I mean, just look at the title. Knight didn’t know what he wanted, so he threw a lot of things together and hoped they stick. When you focus on plot, it’s beneficial if you have an original one. He didn’t have that, not even at the predictable end.
If he had cut out the majority of the introspection and showed us the story thread, I think we would be looking at a better book already. But what he really needed was a fifty page subplot about the school to help round out the characters and solidify some of the twists.
A lot of it felt like pulling magic from mid-air. It didn’t feel true to character. And what’s sad is that I called every single one of them.
Not only that, but I think if Knight would focus on Dagan’s descent into darkness, maybe even show that in the framing device, he would have a bestseller on his hands. That’s something that needs to be done more often in Dark Fantasy.
And by the looks of it, I hope he pulls that off in the third. He just needs to slow down and take a harder look at his writing.
“The difference between a poison and cure often lay in the skill of the one who administered it.”