Title: King of Ashes
Author: Raymond E. Feist
Fantasy fans have been awaiting Raymond E. Feist’s ‘King of Ashes’, the first novel of his new trilogy, The Firemane Saga, with keen interest. It is the first book Feist has written outside the universe of The Riftwar Cycle in more than 30 years, and few knew what to expect. The fantasy master wanted to break with tradition, and he has.
The novel opens with treachery and bloodshed that would make Game of Thrones fans gasp and, like Game of Thrones, The Firemane Saga is a political intrigue: a battle between kingdoms, factions and religions for power. But that is where the comparisons end. After the shocking opening, the novel steers clear of the grim fantasy genre, and moves into themes of medieval fantasy: children of provenance, curses, revenge and destiny.
Set on the world of Garn, centuries of peace between the five greatest kingdoms end when four violate the covenant and destroy Ithrace, the kingdom of Steveren Langene, known as “the Firemane” for his brilliant red hair. In the resulting power vacuum, the remaining four kingdoms spend decades preparing for war.
The Firemane’s new-born son is the sole royal survivor of the treachery. Whisked away by loyalists, he is hidden and raised on the Island of Coaltachin, home of the Kingdom of the Night, where the powerful Nocusara, the legendary assassins, are trained.
Fast forward a generation, and we meet the young Firemane, Hatu, on the Island of Coaltachin: a trained assassin, plagued by the mystery of his parentage and his benefactor.
On the mainland, we meet another young man of royal lineage: the bastard Declan. Raised as a blacksmith he, like Hatu, is ignorant of his parentage. Declan is a master weapons maker, one of the rare few with the knowledge and skill to forge the Kings Steel used in the most powerful and most expensive swords in the land.
Hatu and Declan flee from the chaos unfolding in their countries as the merciless King Lodavico, the mastermind of the Firemane War of Betrayal, prepares for his next coup.
Fate draws the pair together in the lands of a cunning “free lord”, Baron Daylon Dumarch. We know the baron to be Hatu’s secret benefactor: not for love of the Firemanes, but because he recognises Hatu’s political value.
In the background, we witness the fanatical Church of the One, loosely based on the Inquisition, rise on the coat tails of Lodavico. As merciless and power-hungry as its ally, the Church of the One is systematically exterminating other religions and their proponents. We also learn that not all is as human in the kingdom of Garn as it first appears.
The pieces are in place: a boy trained as a killing machine with a family to avenge; a young man with the ability to create the most powerful weapons in the world; a war in the making; and an existential threat ready to pounce on a world of unsuspecting, squabbling men.
In ‘King of Ashes’, Feist has achieved his aim of creating a world vastly different to The Riftwar Cycle. In Garn, magic takes a back seat to politics and the social context, while human passions – the lust for power, love and revenge – take centre stage. The biggest question remains: can The Firemane Saga be contained to a trilogy?