Color me impressed with this awesome debut novel! This book needs to be read more often.
From the first chapter I could tell I was going to like this book, it’s the prose that really drew me in. Much more prose filled than Sanderson, but not quite the level of Bancroft, this book flows and is immersive. The five sense writing was strong, and it sucked you into the setting quickly.
The book opens with a mysterious man who can reconfigure his face at a whim. He’s meeting a woman to discuss information that will be useful for a heist, every time the woman blinks, his face is unrecognizable again.
The city is called Teranis and it’s a pseudo London like setting in the Victorian Era. Cobbled streets, horse drawn carriages, gas light street lamps, it’s rainy or foggy more often than not and the class structure is in full swing. You’ve got the lowly Buroughsiders which our protagonist is from, the Denizens which are the citizens of esteem, and the Ivory class which are the Lords and Ladies of the city.
Ashes, the protagonist is only 14 years old, and typically this annoys me – and he does make his fair share of unwise and rash decisions which are typical of a young teenager. But, overall he’s mature, good natured and likeable. I didn’t mind this was a coming of age story even though I don’t always click with those sorts of stories.
Deeply untrusting of anyone around him, he only has one friend, Blimey – who’s under his protection from a man named Mr. Ragged who is a cruel dictator like person who runs the Burroughside part of the city. Blimey is an interesting character, and much smarter than he appears at first, and his biggest love in life is books and words.
The magic in this world isn’t structured so rigidly like Sandersons novels, but they do follow rules and guidelines. About 1 in 1000 people are Canted, meaning born with a natural ability to do magic, however, anyone can use items Artificers have created. Artificers come in two main types, Weavers and Stitchers. They are very related, but not quite the same and each Canted person will lean one way or the other but given enough training they will be able to use both kinds of magic.
The magic is light based, and Weavers can create illusions with light. People who can use magic are called Artificers, and Artificers can create items that will alter your appearance among other things.
The city is plagued at night by Ravagers which are semi-human monsters that roam the streets at night looking for people who haven’t made it inside by nightfall. They are vicious and creepy, and will even turn on each other ripping each other apart if they sense an injured Ravager, or come across a Ravager from another pack.
The sewers are also full of unsavory monsters, or so it’s rumored.
The world building is well done with medium paced reveals. You’re not sitting and waiting like a slow reveal books, but you’re not going to be overwhelmed by info dumps that make your head spin either. The world is believable and immersive and consistent.
The pacing is medium-fast. It slows down, but never crawls, usually when you’re learning how Ashes is progressing with his magic training, and picking back up again before you get bored.
This also has some similar aspects to The Lies of Locke Lamora, and if you enjoyed Locke as a character, I think you’d like Asher too. He’s not quite the larger than life character Locke is, but he is a con artist making it day by day, and is easily likeable due to his good nature and intelligence.
This was an awesome debut novel, and I hope to see Birch putting out the sequel soon, I’ll be picking it up immediately.
On goodreads I gave it a 4, and this is one of those times I struggled with that because I really felt it was worth a 4.3 – 4.5, but alas, Goodreads doesn’t let me give half stars.