Sunday, 16 September 2018

A Curse of Ash and Embers by Jo Spurrier

A Curse of Ash and Embers by Jo Spurrier is a novel in a new fantasy series by the author of the grimdark Children of the Black Sun trilogy (which started with Winter Be My Shield). That said, A Curse of Ash and Embers is being marketed as YA so at least you know it won't be quite as full of torture as the earlier series. Whether or not you consider the book to be YA is a matter of personal opinion; to me it's just a fantasy book, but I also wouldn't hesitate to give it to an interested teen.

A dead witch. A bitter curse. A battle of magic.

Some people knit socks by the fire at night. Gyssha Blackbone made monsters.

But the old witch is dead now, and somehow it's Elodie's job to clean up the mess.

When she was hired at Black Oak Cottage, Elodie had no idea she'd find herself working for a witch; and her acid-tongued new mistress, Aleida, was not expecting a housemaid to turn up on her doorstep.

Gyssha's final curse left Aleida practically dead on her feet, and now, with huge monsters roaming the woods, a demonic tree lurking in the orchard and an angry warlock demanding repayment of a debt, Aleida needs Elodie's help, whether she likes it or not.

And no matter what the old witch throws at her, to Elodie it's still better than going back home.

I really enjoyed A Curse of Ash and Embers and I can't wait to read the next book in the series. Elodie was a very believable and grounded character, who generally leaned towards doing the sensible thing. The world she lives in is a fairly standard pre-industrial European-ish fantasy world, but at the same time magic is an uncommon phenomenon and Elodie didn't really believe in it until she left home. I enjoyed watching Elodie finding her place in her new world. It was a satisfying mix of "well, someone has to cook and clean" and her trying to reconcile her own experiences of her new mistress with the stories told by the villagers she meets.

I haven't generally been very much in the mood for fantasy books recently, but once I started reading this one (which I thought was a novella for some reason — it is not) I was instantly hooked on the story. Spurrier's writing style continues to be gripping even in this narratively more straight-forward book (first person, single narrator) and I certainly would not hesitate to pick up any other books of hers.

The story put me slightly in mind of Pratchett's Witches books, but more because Elodie seemed like she would fit in as an apprentice witch in that world than any more obvious similarities in satire or style. That said, I also really liked one particular worldbuilding aspect in A Curse of Ash and Embers: that the witches wants are basically clubs studded with crystals. Unlike a traditional style (eg Harry Potter) wand, they were as well suited to bashing people as wielding magic...

As I said, A Curse of Ash and Embers was a great read and I highly recommend it to pretty much all fantasy fans. The next book is out in 2019 and I'm hoping that means it will be a relatively short wait (fingers crossed for less than a year) before we find out what happens next. I should note that A Curse of Ash and Embers does not end on a cliffhanger or anything — the story arc is fairly self-contained — but I still want to read more. Hopefully soon.

5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2018, HarperVoyager
Series: Yes. Tales of the Blackbone Witches book 1 of 3 (I think)
Format read: ePub ARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

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