Every year since the Ashlords were gifted phoenix horses by their gods, they've raced them. First into battle, then on great hunts, and finally for the pure sport of seeing who rode the fastest. Centuries of blood and fire carved their competition into a more modern spectacle: The Races.
Partial synopsis provided by Goodreads.
Series: Untitled Duology #1
Author: Scott Reintgen
Publication Date: January 21, 2020
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Page Count: 368
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia
Cover Artist: Sammy Yuen
My Rating: ★★★1/2
I received a copy of this book from Crown Books for Young Readers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! In no way does this affect my rating or review.
All included quotes have been taken from an ARC and may not match the finished publication.
It’s the first time I’ve seen it all so clearly. There are two worlds, and I know exactly which one I belong in.
Content Warning: Death, Gore, Brutality, Profanity
Ashlords has been one of my most anticipated reads of 2020. The first and foremost reason, which I think is obvious if you know me, is that it’s about phoenix horses. The first half of the story was great. There is quite a lot of world building, history given, political dynamics unraveled, and “rules of the game” explained. It was the second-half where this plot-line lost my interest as it became solely focused on the political maneuverings.
Several details in Ashlords mirror plot points in The Hunger Games: a glitzy competition full of brutality (minus murder even though death happens) publicized over live television, romantic twists, betrayal, the underdog trope, etc. I think a lot of YA dystopias follow similar paths no matter what. Overall, this story contains some very unique details. Phoenix horses, alchemy, unique mythology/deities, definitely add a freshness to a story-line that has been done many times over.
Ashlords is told by three different characters. Each character is from a very different station, and do well when giving insight into their beliefs, viewpoints, and stances on life. Imelda is a Dividian. Few Dividian ever make it to the races. Through her alchemy skills and social media maneuvering, she lands an unlikely spot in the race. Pippa is from an entirely different world. Born into a wealthy Ashlord family, she is favored to win. Both of her parents were winners of the race, and she isn’t about to let them down. The final viewpoint is told from Adrian. A “Longhand,” he represents the previously failed rebellion against the Ashlords. Their previous failure doesn’t stop his father’s pursuit in overthrowing the Ashlords, and is his reason for running the race.
While I genuinely appreciated several unique points of this plot, there were a few things that I didn’t like so much. One was the changing POV voices. I don’t mind stories told by multiple characters. It’s not my favorite, but I’m fine with it. What is different about Ashlords is that the voice of the POV changes from third to second, but only for Pippa’s voice. I’m not sure, but I’m hoping that singling out Pippa for this POV has a reason and not just a choice of style. If it has a reason, it has the potential to be a clever technique utilized by the author. If not, it’s just a confusing addition to the narrative.
Secondly, where are the phoenix horses? I was really hoping that this special horse would take front and center when it came to this story. Maybe I’m being too critical here, but I’m a horse-lover, and am dying for some solid horse representation in YA! What was offered here was motivational for the plot, but didn’t give anything extra for the reader. What was necessary was told, but those (many, I imagine) embellishments of the phoenix horses didn’t exist. They were more robotic, than anything. Horses have just as much character as humans do, so I was hoping for them to also be more individually characterized than they were.
The writer is undoubtedly very talented. Certainly, many readers will connect with these characters. For my personal tastes, I didn’t care for how the plot shifted focus. I’m getting the feeling at my medial reaction to this story is a hint that I need to take a long break from dystopia-style plots, because they just aren’t grabbing me much anymore. Perhaps, at a different time in my reading “career,” I would feel differently about how this plot strikes me. I think Ashlords offers a unique world, but I didn’t connect with the characters much at all, and therefore, lost my focus.
Sexual content: Minimal.
Violence: Moderate. (See Content Warning.)
My Rating: ★★★1/2
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