There is no way I’m going to be able to avoid spoilers here for Heart of Dust, the first in the Death’s Embrace series. So if you haven’t read book 1, don’t go any further! Go read that book and then come back. Trust me, it’ll be worth your time!
Now that the long miners strike is over and a new Archon rules over Iole City, life should be calmer for Foreman Doran O Seanain. Of course, it’s anything but because nothing in Doran’s life is ever simple. Someone is actively sabotaging mine activity; the new Archon, who is also Doran’s daughter, is facing threats from within her court and without; and, of course, there’s Nathaniel Morgenstern.
Nathaniel remains enslaved to the drug that sustains his life, while ultimately destroying it, and he’d does so while running himself ragged in service to the miners. He has a debt he owes the Archon, a debt he can never repay, and one that may kill him quicker than his addiction. And then there’s Doran, the one man he can’t help loving and the one man who should hate him more than any other.
Life in Iole City isn’t for the faint of heart, and as Nathaniel and Doran find them swept up in a morass of politics, class inequality, and the harsh realities of their world, they must decide if loving one another is worth the struggle, or if walking away is the kinder choice.
Soul of Ash is set shortly after the end of Heart of Dust and these books must be read in order. There is simply too much world building and story development to try and read them as stand-alones. And, if like me, you read Heart of Dust when it first came out a couple years ago, you might want to re-read it right before Soul of Ash. I found that it helped me follow the storyline a bit more.
I loved Soul of Ash, even more than I did the first book in the series. It has everything that I enjoy about quality fantasy: a strong story, in-depth world building, and fantastic characters. Add in a healthy dose of angst and it’s pretty much a recipe for great reading. Doran and Nathaniel are complex and compelling characters. Both men carry the weight of the world on their shoulders and there are no easy answers for either of them. Nathaniel is literally under not one, but two, death sentences and he can’t escape what he’s done in the past. Doran should hate him and Nathaniel isn’t naive enough to expect forgiveness, but the fact that Doran seems to offer it shows how deeply bound both men are. Whatever joy these two can obtain will come in measured amounts and I think readers know that a happily ever after is far from promised. This is definitely a slow burning romance and one that is fraught with serious obstacles at nearly every turn.
The world building in Soul of Ash is as rich in detail as the story itself. The author does a good job of offering up information as a part of a natural narrative flow. The world of Iole City contains everything from myth and religion, to political machinations, and it all blended exceptionally well. There aren’t any info dumps and I never felt overwhelmed by what was happening on the page. Instead, I was captivated by the story and, while there’s nothing particular “new” about the plot, it’s written so well, I found myself simply enjoy being in the world and with the characters.
Soul of Ash is an excellent read and thankfully not the last in the series. There’s still a lot to learn about Nathaniel’s murky past and the relationship between he and Doran is only just beginning. Patience is not one of my virtues, so I’m going to be waiting with bated breath for the next installment!