Welcome to another review as part of the Speculative Fiction Indie Novella Championship, or SFINCS, which I am judging as part of Team Jamreads alongside a cohort of other lovely judges. For my SFINCS reviews, I will be judging each book on the following five criteria: Characters, Setting, Plot, Writing, and Enjoyment with a bonus point for Cover Art and Formatting. This review contains my honest thoughts and does not represent the opinion or final rating of the team.
This review is for From the Ashes by B.S.H. Garcia and is a semi-finalist allocated to Team Jamreads for review.
The civil war ends now.
Igtheos and his rebels have fought tirelessly against a would-be dictator and his army for almost two years. The city they’ve holed up in has become a prison, soon to be a tomb if they cannot arrange a means of escape.
When the enemy leader offers an armistice that’s too good to be true, Igtheos reluctantly accepts, thinking it will buy him enough time to smuggle those loyal to him out of the city. But he quickly learns the cost of choosing hope over caution as he finds himself caught in his enemy’s sinister plan, fighting a final unexpected battle. Failure means death, or worse, the loss of his loved ones.
And he only has one night to determine everyone’s fate.
From the Ashes is a prequel novelette that takes place over two thousand years prior to the events in Of Thieves and Shadows—volume one in the epic fantasy series, The Heart of Quinaria.
From the Ashes is a prequel to an epic fantasy series and is about a group of rebels under siege in a city that’s slowly starving them out. Their enemy is offering them an armistice, but is it too good to be true?
This follows the story of two POV characters Igtheos, our hero, and his partner Elize. They’re a married interracial couple with a young daughter, which I gather from the world building is not always looked upon favourably. They’re under siege with no easy way out. While Igtheos is the warrior of the two and is making plans to smuggle his family and his men out of the city and under the enemy’s nose, Elize appears to be a scholar with a divine quest to hide magical scrolls which the big bad guy would like to get his hands on. The two POV’s make for a powerful couple, but naturally their concern is for their child. Igtheos comes across as optimistic and slightly naïve, whereas Elize seems more down to earth and cynical about their chances for survival.
When their enemy offers them a truce, Igtheos is more on board than Elize, if only to give his men a chance of survival. There are a handful of side characters here, mostly men that serve under Igtheos, but they each have a comradery about them, and a reason for being there.
Set in a besieged city that appears to be Roman or Mediterranean inspired. There are various world building details that capture the atmosphere of this world. There are different fantasy races and fantasy creatures within, some of which are truly terrifying monsters. I would have liked to have learned more about the races, however, as I didn’t grasp much about them.
Under siege from the enemy and starving, the rebels under Igtheos’s command aren’t doing so well and things are starting to get desperate. They’re faced with either death or surrender, but their enemy throws them a lifeline – supplies of food and drink in exchange for surrender. The rebels take the opportunity, unaware that it’s a trap. Soon the action starts and leads to tragic consequences. From The Ashes is quite a short story for a novella, so naturally the plot moves quick, with much of the story engaged in a deadly battle for survival. It doesn’t shy away from the brutal side of combat and war, nor does it take the easy way out, which is something I can respect. There is some heartbreak, but to say more would be spoilers!
The writing is smooth and fast-paced, with high-stakes fighting that really gets the heart pumping and makes you fear for our two main characters. Both POV characters are distinct and bring their own unique perspective to the story.
Unfortunately, From the Ashes didn’t quite work for me as a standalone. There’s not enough of the world explained for me to become invested within it. I didn’t understand the various races or why they face discrimination, nor did I understand why the war was happening, why the city was under siege, or what was so important by the secret scrolls Elize had to hide. A fellow judge described it as coming in at the end of a finale, and that describes my feeling. I don’t have enough of the backstory to really understand what’s going on. I think, then, that From the Ashes probably works better if you’ve read previous books in the series.
That said, I enjoyed the writing style and brutal action enough to be interested in exploring the series!
Cover Art and Formatting
The cover is absolutely gorgeous and hints at the setting and stakes perfectly. Definitely one of my favourite covers in the competition.