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Like Brandon Sanderson, But More So

By JPV1000, author of Warbler

Nov 12, 2015: From Winters Ashes can be summed up as ‘Brandon Sanderson on steroids’. This is not a bad thing, but not necessarily a great one either. If you like Brandon Sanderson you should try FWA, but the reverse is also true. What there is to love about Sanderson’s writing is there but more so, but what there is to dislike is similarly magnified I love the concept of ‘Hard Fantasy’, ie fantasy with very clear rules. From Winter’s Ashes has that—it literally includes a section that explains how to convert various spells to and from modern units of energy. (660 Joules=1 Cantrip, 1000 Cantrips=1 Thaum, etc.) However, those technical documents (AKA the Interstitials) are also rather tedious to slog through at times. (Seriously, in Interstitial 1, feel free to skip everything other than the explanation of the Spirit-Walkers. I’d recommend reading the Thaum thing too, but what’s summed up above is all that an average reader really needs. The future Interstitials are better, but they do stop being explanations of the magic at some point.) The scientific approach this world has to magic, however, is amazingly well thought through. It answers questions, but raises twice as many, much like true science. Each update of FWA is on the order of five to ten thousand words in length, which is rather long for a Serial. This would be alright, if there was more tension, but there isn’t. Heather is initially a compelling enough character to have me flip from 1.0 to 1.1, but doesn’t really provide much to keep you going after that. She doesn’t really develop, and although she’s depressed and I get that, she’s still not really compelling. There’s not a sense of tension or suspense. I’m not sure if this is normal for the Noir genre, as it’s not typically my thing, but the serial does immediately have a Holmesian feel—which it struggles a bit to hold on to. It opens very, very Noir, but then doesn’t really deliver on that feel. The story is excellent, don’t get me wrong, but perhaps not Noir. When we get to the North, there’s two things that really bug me, which are tangentially related. The first is that the North is set up as being the location of the ‘adamant mines’, which are vital for things. (It’s basically a MacGuffin when introduced, which is totally okay-it’s a well-done MacGuffin.) However, this vital resource is defended by disgraced detectives and drunken majors? That doesn’t seem believable. Also, I personally found the accents as portrayed in the story to be annoying at first, but they get toned down after a few chapters. The writing’s solid, although I really dislike the use of onomatopoeia and capslock. The magic is refreshingly well thought through, and is a pleasure to read about. Instances such as when Heather explains why a Necromancer would use a skeleton to hunt down rabbits just stand out as amazing writing on all levels. Finally, the author makes good use of the flexibility of the Web Serial format, playing with format and mixing fonts extremely effectively. The later chapters do this especially well, and it’s worth a read just on that merit. I will absolutely continue reading From Winters Ashes, but be warned there’s probably a very specific type of person this will appeal to in my opinion. I just happen to be one of them.

Full Disclosure: This was done as part of a review swap. I have endeavored to maintain as neutral a point of view as possible.

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