Erin Larson: Book Reviews & Essays

“Ashes of the Sun” by Django Wexler

Ashes of the Sun

By Django Wexler

 

I received an ARC of Ashes of the Sun from Orbit in exchange for an honest review.

 

When I read Django Wexler’s Shadow Campaigns series, I knew he was an author to watch: his writing was crisp, his storytelling was kinetic, and he put female and queer characters front and center without fanfare. So I was eager to pick up the first entry in Burningblade & Silvereye, his next series for adults. Ashes of the Sun doesn’t quite come together in the end, but it still delivers a wildly enjoyable ride which crackles with the endearing characters and sharp, energetic writing I expect from Wexler.

Wexler openly acknowledges the influence of Star Wars on Ashes of the Sun, and the inspiration is obvious—four hundred years after a war which left the world in ruins, centarchs (Jedi), who wield deiat (the Force) and weapons called haken (lightsabers), maintain peace throughout the Republic. A centarch shows up one day at the farm where eight-year-old Gyre and five-year-old Maya live with their parents, and Gyre’s younger sister is forcibly recruited into the Twilight Order; Gyre attacks the centarch who takes her, an action which costs him an eye. The story proper picks up twelve years later, with Maya training to be a centarch under her master, Jaedia, and Gyre determined to bring down the Order at any cost.

The worldbuilding similarities to Star Wars can be somewhat distracting at times, but the story is different enough that it didn’t detract from my enjoyment (spoiler: there are no sibling kisses to be found in this book). I also found the influence of Star Wars to be helpful in establishing the type of story Wexler wants to tell—it’s fun and relatively lighthearted, a rollicking adventure largely uninterested in interrogating its deeper themes. I tend to crave a bit more substance in my fiction, something meaningful I can chew on after I am finished with the text, but I don’t think it’s fair to criticize Ashes of the Sun for not doing something it doesn’t set out to do. Wexler’s focus is on crafting an engaging, propulsive story first and foremost, and he succeeds admirably.

There are some problems with tone, however. Ashes of the Sun is marketed as adult fiction, but it reads much more like YA; the pacing is brisk, almost relentless, and the dialogue loose and sprightly in such a way that it sometimes strays into cutesy territory and renders the fictional world flippant and weightless. These aren’t criticisms in and of themselves, but I frequently felt the literary equivalent of whiplash when the more “adult” aspects came to the fore: although nothing gratuitous by any means, there is a good deal of violence and profanity (Wexler is so committed to portraying healthy, consensual sex that it’s hardly worth bringing up here—this is what younger readers should be exposed to). I likely would have had a smoother reading experience if Ashes of the Sun had been marketed as YA, or if Wexler had given his characters more time to exist in quiet moments so I could appreciate the density and texture of their world.

I also found the depth and complexity of the characters to be strangely unbalanced; this is the first book of a series, yes, so they will (hopefully) continue to develop, but I was still frustrated by how the secondary cast had more dimension than Gyre and Maya themselves. I’m not sure I could tell you anything meaningful about the main characters except “Gyre believes the Twilight Order is bad” and “Maya believes the Twilight Order is good.” It’s not enough. Chapters in Ashes of the Sun alternate between Gyre and Maya, and neither perspective left me bored: every time I made the switch, Wexler was able to immediately draw me back into the other story. But I was always drawn back in because I wanted to see more of the delightful supporting cast, not because I wanted to see more of Gyre and Maya. It’s a minor grievance here, but it will need to change if successive entries in the series are to be successful.

Despite these complaints, I ultimately had a great deal of fun with Ashes of the Sun. Wexler’s prose hits a sweet spot for me—less dense and more readable than Martin or Erikson, but more syntactically complex than Sanderson—and I continue to adore how prominently he places female and queer characters (homosexuality, bisexuality, and asexuality are openly accepted in the fictional world; perhaps we’ll see a trans character at some point?). I flew through the book with a smile on my face, eager to see more of the mythology and (some of) the characters, and I will be snatching up the sequel when it becomes available. You won’t find much thematic richness here, but if you’re looking for a good time, look no further than Ashes of the Sun.

 

Review by Erin Larson

Ashes of the Sun will be published July 21st, 2020.

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