I recently received a notification that TBR & Beyond is hosting Blood Sworn by Scott Reintgen in February and it sounded so good I had to sign up! I don’t know yet if I’ve got the review spot I requested (February 20th) but I immediately looked up the previous book, Ashlords, on Libby and found an audiobook copy available to borrow right away. So I did. Oh, my, goodness, I loved this book! Please TBR & Beyond and whatever dieties influence tour selection, let me get in on the Blood Sworn tour action! For now, please enjoy my review of Ashlords.
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Untitled Duology Book One
by Scott Reintgen
Published 21 January 2020
by Crown Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA Fantasy
Page Count: 368
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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.
Over the course of a multi-day event, elite riders from clashing cultures vie to be crowned champion. But the modern version of the sport requires more than good riding. Competitors must be skilled at creating and controlling phoenix horses made of ash and alchemy, which are summoned back to life each sunrise with uniquely crafted powers to cover impossible distances and challenges before bursting into flames at sunset. But good alchemy only matters if a rider knows how to defend their phoenix horse at night. Murder is outlawed, but breaking bones and poisoning ashes? That’s all legal and encouraged.
In this year’s Races, eleven riders will compete, but three of them have more to lose than the rest–a champion’s daughter, a scholarship entrant, and a revolutionary’s son. Who will attain their own dream of glory? Or will they all flame out in defeat?
My Rating: 5 Stars
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Ashlords is told from three points of view: Pippa, Imelda, and Adrian. Pippa is an Ashlord, and the daughter of two former winners of The Races. Her POV is told in second person, as if we the reader are Pippa and her story is our story. The Ashlords are the rulers of this dystopian world, the victors of a past war, and their elite send their kids to compete for glory in The Races. Pippa has trained all her life for this moment, and she does not plan to lose.
Imelda is a Dividian, this world’s equivalent of surrendered lower-class workers living outside the Ashlord’s wealthy neighbourhoods but still somewhat connected with them. Imelda and her peers have no hope of going off to university and fulfilling their dreams. They’re destined to grow into their parents’ jobs and perpetuate their drab lives. Imelda, however, is a talented alchemist, someone who understands exactly what to add to a phoenix (horse) ashes to get particular features from a rebirth. A video she and her friend record of her performing a rebirth of her own design called “Trust Fall” goes viral. When Pippa needs to direct the attention of her rabid public elsewhere, she taps the viral sensation as the Dividian invitee to this year’s Races, and thus Imelda finds herself in The Races on a borrowed horse. Imelda’s point of view chapters are told in first person.
Adrian is the son of a Longhorn military leader, with the Longhorns being a group of people who live outside of the Ashlord’s influence and did not peacefully settle in defeat like the Dividians. One Longhorn is also included in The Races each year, and this year it’s Adrian, because his father wants to use the result of his son’s race to start a war. Adrian’s point of view chapters are also told in first person.
The way the different groups of people relate to each other in this book reminds me of Hunger Games flavour dystopians, which the Ashlords being like the Capitol, the Dividians one of the recognized districts, and the Longhorns the previously destroyed District 13. Beyond the definite dystopian feel, though, this book also has familiar elements from typical “horse kid” books and, in the case of Adrian’s chapters in particular, old westerns.
I absolutely love the way social media and technology has been imagined for this world! And the horses? I’m a horse lover, and I’m a huge fan of this new equine version of a phoenix. What a cool idea!
Magic in this book comes in two forms: that of the phoenix horses which can be temporarily bent by humans through “alchemy” but always resets at the end of the day, and that which is leant by gods.
Despite the fact that Pippa’s POV is supposed to be us, the readers, I connected best with Imelda and looked forward to her chapters most. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Pippa and Adrian, though. I certainly did, and I can’t really rank one of them above the other, it’s just that Imelda felt the most relatable.
My only complaint is that Imelda’s big plan for handling The Races vs how it plays out felt like it came out of left field. I didn’t feel like her initial POV sections back home with her friend adequately set up the chain of logic that lead her to making the choices she made. As for how it worked out, I’m going to be super vague because I want to avoid spoilers, but the family member assisting has ulterior motives and I didn’t get a sense of those motives coming from someone who would be related to her. It felt more like something the parents of one of the other two POV characters would have wanted (but again, not saying which.)
I’ve volunteered for a spot on the blog tour for book 2 with TBR & Beyond and I’m really hoping to get it so I can read book 2 as soon as possible, so I went ahead and borrowed the audiobook of Ashlords via Libby as soon as I heard about the tour. If I don’t get a spot on the tour, I’ll be waiting for book 2 to get an audiobook and hoping for the same narrators, because this ensemble cast was amazing! Each of the three POV characters was voiced by a different actor, which made it extremely easy to keep track of which POV we were in. I do think the way the actor narrating Adrian chose to voice the character added a bit more of that old western novel feel I mentioned in a previous paragraph, and I’m curious now to read the ebook version just to see if Adrian comes across like the “Old West” outlaw he seemed to be in the audiobook.
Overall this was a great book and I can’t wait to read the second half of this story in book 2.
5 out of 5 stars!
About the Author
Scott Reintgen is an author of science fiction and fantasy books.
He wrote the Nyxia trilogy, as well as Saving Fable, Escaping Ordinary (Fall 2020), Ashlords and Bloodsworn (2021). He began his career as an English and Creative Writing teacher in North Carolina. He strongly believes that every student who steps into the classroom deserves to see themselves, vibrant and victorious and on the page. It’s his hope to encourage a future full of diverse writers. He currently lives in North Carolina with his wife Katie and his two boys, Henry and Thomas.
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