When I received the sequel to The Ember Blade, The Shadow Casket, from Gollancz, I quickly went out and ordered the first book in the series The Ember Blade. I did some quick research on it and quickly saw it had received a lot of praise from people who’d read it with some even claiming it to be “the best fantasy” they’d ever read and “Lord of the Rings for the modern age” so I went it to it with high expectations.
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The Ember Blade follows the story of Aren, his journey to retrieve the Ember Blade and everything else that happens to him along the way – the people he meets, the evil he faces, the worlds and cultures he explores, the losses he takes and the lessons he learns. It’s a big fantasy book (800+ pages) that introduces you to a world with people that you’ll very much want to stay in for the long haul.
The Ember Blade plot – 4.5/5
The Ember Blade is a true fantasy epic that many fantasy fans have come to adore. As I said above, it follows the story of Aren and his friend Kade living their everyday lives when one day Aren’s father is killed for apparently betraying the kingdom and Aren and Kade become imprisoned and forced to work in slavery. They eventually make their escape and become part of a team of rebels whose intention it is to steal The Ember Blade to mark their symbol of rebellion against those who suppress them.
It all sounds like a fairly generic fantasy story but there are two incredible elements to the story: one is the many smaller plot points and action that happens throughout the story that keeps you intrigued throughout the whole book and the other is how nothing that ever happens ever feels truly enormous. The problem so often with the first fantasy book in a series is that the first book feels so detrimental to the world in which it sits that the second book then feels like it has a lot to live up to. In The Ember Blade, Aren and his comrades do spark up a rebellion but do it in a way that leaves so much more left to happen in the sequel.
What I also enjoyed is that often fantasy books are written in such formal and unrelatable writing to give the book a sense of a “ye olde” world but there’s none of that in here, which translates across the characters themselves.
The Ember Blade characters – 5/5
What I always say with fantasy books is that because the author has to use so much brain power remembering the world they’ve created and the deep fictional tale they’re telling that the characters can suffer quite a lot from this with them being more vessels to tell the story than people themselves. Chris Woodings does a great job of avoiding this in The Ember Blade. It begins this way with a lot of the story being more serious but you can tell, as he grew more comfortable and defined the characters more, he then began to inject each character with far more personality.
For example, we have a couple of characters, Kade being one of them that offer a sense of humour to the situation and a character who comes along later who goes from being despised to a loveable character who you won’t be able to help yourself from loving by the end.
To top this, there’s another protagonist who its very hard to tell whether they’re on the good side or the bad side. They’re introduced as a fairly unlikeable person and much of their past is filled with morally-wrong actions. However, inevitably you can’t help but end up having some respect for them even if it’s purely for the fact that Wooding had managed to write a character with plenty of layers.
The Ember Blade final rating – 4.5
The Ember Blade is one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read. It introduces you to a deep world without feeling overwhelming, it tells a story that doesn’t feel intimidating and it involves characters that you genuinely can’t help but love.
Even if you’re not a fantasy fan per se, The Ember Blade should skyrocket to the top of your reading list. Yes, it’s over 800 pages long and so may take you a hot minute to finish, but I really don’t remember a moment during this book where I wasn’t absolutely gripped and enjoying myself.
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