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Ash and Sand #2

Kings of Ash

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Release date: January 17, 2019.
The much anticipated continuation of the Ash and Sand trilogy...

Follow the long, bloody journey of Ruka, son of Beyla through the islands of Pyu and the frozen wastes of the Ascom; see the return home of Ratama Kale Alaku, the 'Sorcerer-Prince', and the terrifying rise of his 'miracles'. Before the end, a shocking history will unravel, ancient connections unfold, and all will learn the cost of unleashing the Kings of Ash...

665 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 17, 2019

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About the author

Richard Nell

8 books624 followers
Richard Nell concerned family and friends by quitting his real job in 2014 to 'write full-time'. He is a Canadian author of fantasy, living in one of the flattest, coldest places on earth with his begrudging wife, who makes sure he eats.

His debut novel, Kings of Paradise, is the first of an epic, coming-of-age, low fantasy trilogy, and a Canadian Amazon best-seller in dark fantasy. It's available now.

He also writes flintlock fantasy! Join his mailing list for news on finished work, freebies, and the occasional philosophical rant.

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Profile Image for Petrik.
664 reviews41.2k followers
July 31, 2020
ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Kings of Ash triumphed over its predecessor in almost every possible way.

Kings of Ash is the second book in Richard Nell’s Ash and Sand trilogy. It’s the sequel to the highly praised Kings of Paradise, but the fans of the previous book don’t need to worry about stumbling into the infamous middle book syndrome here. Kings of Ash surpassed the previous book’s quality and it can all be boiled down to one reason: this is Ruka’s book. I have mentioned this in my review of Kings of Paradise: “Ruka’s POV was easily one of the best anti-heroes POV I’ve ever read in grimdark fantasy,” and I stand by my words, even more so after reading this instalment. Kings of Ash is a different kind of book from its predecessor; it’s much more character-driven. Almost the entire narrative was told from Ruka’s POV and I’m incredibly satisfied by this decision. Nell offers a deep exploration of Ruka’s character and it makes the storyline feel more intimate. More importantly, this storytelling style shows Nell’s greatest writing strength as an author - his characterizations.

“A lioness cares nothing for the shriek of jackals, old woman. Now hear this, and hear it well—if she had raised me to hate, I would kill you and all your kin, and no man or god could stop me.”

There’s something I realized while reading this book. It seems that I have the tendency to find well-written barbarians highly intriguing and compelling to read. The Bloody Nine, Karsa Orlong, and now Ruka. However, there’s something about Ruka that separated him from the other barbarians I mentioned; he’s a complex genius with an eidetic memory. Ruka was an extremely well-written character and it’s proven by how easy it was to root for him. Even when he did so many questionable things with heavy consequences, the motivations and purposes behind his savage actions felt realistic; it really brought life to his character. I was super invested in his journey and struggles. Beneath his demonic facade, he’s an honest bloke who takes no bullshit. Plus, because of the issues surrounding his birth and physical deformity, the unlikely friendships that he built felt incredibly genuine and, somehow, heart-warming. One the things about Ruka that Nell did exceptionally well was demonstrate how his eidetic memory capability helped in shaping his character. Usually, we think of eidetic memory as a gift. I mean, how awesome it would be if we didn’t have to reread a book to catch up on an incomplete series, to remember every single detail we’ve seen or experienced with a clear vision as if it literally just happened? Great, right? But how about pain and sadness? That also comes with it. Ruka’s eidetic memory doesn’t allow him to escape from anything he encountered; it becomes both a gift and a curse in his life. In my opinion, this amplified the quality of his characterizations, making his character original and fresh in the grimdark genre.

“And how could a man forgive, he wondered, if the memory of his wounds were as fresh as the day they spawned?
He thought perhaps this was his true curse—to remember. Other people never truly forgave, he thought—they only ever forgot the details, the feelings, the failures. But this was not a path open to him.”

The differences in the cultures and environments of the islands’ citizens enhanced the originality of world-building as well as characters’ motivations. In a way, there seemed to be more Norse and Vikings inspiration to the story than before. The invasions, weaponry (seax), and cultures in Ascom all reminded me of how Vikings used to behave. Outside of Ascom, the world seemed to brim with Asian influences. Other characters did receive a few spotlighted moments. Kale and Dala appeared here too, but their appearances were very brief in comparison to Ruka. I personally enjoyed this more because from my perspective, Ruka is the main character of this trilogy since the first book.

If you’ve seen my review of Kings of Paradise, you’ll notice that I had an issue with the pacing. Unfortunately, the problem was still a bit evident here. There were a few sections in Part II that felt draggy to read and they don’t seem to add a lot of value to the overall content. Luckily, Part I and III were thoroughly incredible and the uneven pacing was completely overwhelmed by the remaining stunning content of the book.

Before I close my review, I would like to also add that Kings of Ash turned the series from low magic fantasy into a high magic fantasy book; there was so much more magic involved within this novel. The inclusion of Grove (I won’t tell you what this is) seriously made the book more fascinating. The action sequences that Nell put upon the pages of this book was bloody, visceral, and impactful in grabbing my attention. Both the arcane magic and the divine power unleashed in full force during the Part III of this book were superbly written, creating one memorably vivid and exhilarating conclusion. Ash and Sand meet in the land of paradise and Heaven can only tremble at its convergence. I truly wish I could say more about this, but I’ve said more than enough. I need to be extra careful with what I mention in this review because the different timeframes that Nell used in this book make it easy to accidentally spoil the content of the first book. You simply must read this for yourself to experience all the emotional and “wow” moments in their full glory.

“Success is not your obligation, boy. Success is often luck and to think otherwise is arrogance. Your burden is only to try. Face your path with courage, and let come what may.”

My recommendation is this: if you’re a reader of character-driven or grimdark fantasy, get on this trilogy as soon as you can. There’s still one book left but I’m already confident enough to say that Ash and Sand is one of the next indie success stories in the making. Kings of Ash is an utterly magnificent sequel that made the already great Kings of Paradise pale in comparison. As far as grimdark fantasy goes, this definitely deserves a place in the big league. The last book of the series, Kings of Heaven, comes out next year, and I anticipate its arrival with much excitement.

Thank you to the author for putting my name in acknowledgment section!

You can order the book from: Amazon UK | Amazon US

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions
Profile Image for Adam.
365 reviews159 followers
January 11, 2019
We all should be familiar with the old saying, “time heals all wounds.” Speaking from personal experience, that’s not always true. Physical wounds leave scars, and emotional wounds linger in the mind. And although some details might fade over time, the pain doesn’t ever really disappear – you just learn to manage it. But what if your memory was flawless? What if, decades later, you can still remember what the wind smelled like when you held your dying mother in your arms? Or if you recall the exact pitch and tone of every innocent scream that was silenced by your blade? If every mistake, every decision, and every moment of your life were preserved in perfect state, forever accessible – is it ever possible to heal from your wounds?

This is what Ruka faces every waking moment. His gift of eidetic memory is both a blessing and a curse. Yet his preternatural abilities don’t end there; his mind is so expansive and far-reaching that there is an evolving society with its own rules of science and nature that exists solely in his thoughts. His body is occupied by two personalities: Ruka the thinker and planner, and Bukayag the barbaric cannibal, renegade leader, and ruthless killer. A constant battle is waged inside Ruka’s mind: there are times he can control his baser impulses, but other times he lets Bukayag ‘take over’ when the situation calls for it. The results aren’t pretty, but they are effective. This is a credo that Ruka has grown quite comfortable with.

It is of my opinion that Ruka is the most fascinating character in all of fantasy. There has never been a character quite so unpredictable, so driven, and so dedicated to his own agenda that he’ll sacrifice anything to achieve it. One of the more interesting facets of his personality is that while he believes the ends justify the means, he fully expects a reckoning for his actions. Ruka has tortured his followers, killed innocents, and committed terrible crimes; some were in defense of his life, but many were not. His follower Egil once said that Ruka is not a good man, but he might be a great man. Someone who burns so bright that he will change the world and challenge the gods. Ruka philosophizes that he will likely suffer in eternity for his actions, yet still deems his journey worthwhile. He may have the power of a god, but he still contemplates an eternity of punishment. This vulnerability helped me to further connect with Ruka’s humanity, which is a neat trick to pull off, considering we first meet Ruka while eating a dead child. Nell somehow manages to make me both love and hate Ruka, to both understand and question him, and somehow root for him to succeed even though he has done so many awful things. It’s a true testament to Nell’s incredible gifts as a writer to instill such powerful feelings of sympathy for such a complex and haunting character.

There are many moments of Kings of Ash, book two in Richard Nell’s brilliant “Ash and Sand” trilogy, that are truly shocking. I do not say this lightly or with any degree of hyperbole. Once again, Nell plays with a multiple-timeline narrative and the reader’s expectations are upended – not once, but several times over. There are game-changing events that completely shatter the direction you think the book is headed, and these events occur early and surprisingly often. There are extraordinary revelations that tie the first book to this sequel, and how it all fits together into a larger, seamless tapestry. Nell’s intricate plotting deserves special recognition as the early seeds of the story grow into meaningful and satisfying payoffs. This book somehow makes Kings of Paradise even better, as it fills in the narrative gaps in the story you didn’t know existed. Minor characters are thrust into center stage, and major players are rcelegated to the sidelines; while Kings of Paradise splits its focus between Ruka and Kale, Kings of Ash keeps Ruka in the spotlight for most of its duration.

And that is a good thing. Nothing against Kale, but this is Ruka’s story. And as exciting as the various shock-inducing plot revelations are, it is first and foremost a character-based story, with Ruka’s emotional journey driving the narrative. In the many months and dozens of books I’ve read in between Kings of Paradise and Kings of Ash, there hasn’t been any character that I’ve thought about more than Ruka. He has set up a secondary Grove and taken residence in my head. I find myself trying to relate to his decisions if I had his kind of power, and how I’d react if I were suffering from the same environmental and emotional trials that he has faced.

I’ve spent most of this review discussing Ruka without divulging much of the plot. This is entirely intentional, as I do not wish to take anything away from the author by revealing something before its intention. Nell is one of fantasy’s most underrated (for now) talents, and I find it difficult to fathom how good this series is coming from an author so early in his career. I can only imagine what heights the future has in store for Nell, but I selfishly hope it consists solely of writing Kings of Heaven for now. In Kings of Ash, Nell has crafted a rare and unforgettable sequel that exceeds its predecessor. It will surprise and haunt you, while playing your emotions like an unfinished symphony. I give this series my highest recommendation.

9.4 / 10
Profile Image for Jody .
201 reviews133 followers
February 1, 2019
"One day he would grieve, and accept the price for all the lives snuffed for the great cause of the future, and suffer whatever came. But not today."

I noticed something early on while reading Kings of Ash. A lot of my assumptions after finishing Kings of Paradise were completely wrong. My assumption of where the story was headed in book 2, my assumption of Ruka's character, and my assumption of the time line. I'm sure if I were to go back and read book 1 I may be able to pick up on these things, but probably not.

I have to give Richard Nell props for the unconventional layout of this series so far. I love being surprised when I'm reading a highly engaging story, and he managed to surprise me several times in this one. Some of these revelations are not just in the dialogue itself, but like lightbulb moments when you notice the author just revealed something you didn't even know was in question. I'm catching on to your little tricks Richard Nell, but I do hope you trick me again in Kings of Heaven.

The heart of this tale belongs to Ruka. Outcast, shaman, warrior, genius, and many more titles that I could list belong to this man. Ruka's character development in this book was simply amazing. I thought he was an interesting character before starting this book, but I had only scratched the surface of this complex individual. He is a man of intense passion; with a drive and determination that is unmatched. A person who sees the wrong in the world, and sets out to change it by any means necessary. I never got tired of reading about him. Which is a true testament to the great writing in this book.

“I am not a man, Prince of Paradise. I am a thousand years of children buried nameless in rotten earth. I am the rage of their helpless mothers, weeping beneath an empty sky. I am the bitter fruit of frozen tears.”

Richard Nell is a talented and crafty writer. This was evident to me after finishing Kings of Paradise, but it really showed in Kings of Ash. To develop a series the way this one has been so far is very refreshing to a reader. At least it is to this reader. I won't go into any details, because it would really ruin the fun of discovering these things out for yourself. Just know you are in for a treat, and a few WTF moments.

“A man fails in only two ways. He gives up, or he dies."

This book had a memorable ending, and a bit of a cliffhanger. I'm going to be impatiently waiting for the release of book 3, Kings of Heaven. I highly recommend this book and series to all fantasy and fiction readers. It is a deeply character driven tale, with intense moments, and a distinctive writing style. Now, go read the books and thank me later.

"Then would come the true storm—a storm building for two thousand years, made of the sons and daughters of once bitter enemies, an alliance between the lost children of paradise—a storm of ash and sand."

Actual Rating: 4.5 stars ****

Profile Image for Richard Nell.
Author 8 books624 followers
January 17, 2019
*We have lift-off. Can't wait for you all to get reading. For those who haven't started the series, I'm running an ebook/audiobook give-away for Kings of Paradise on Reddit here for anyone so inclined: Give-away *

We have an ebook release date! On January 17, the Kings of Ash escape their frozen prison, and let the tears flow...

You can read the first two chapters right now on my website.

Pre-order available on Amazon.

Very excited to share this next installment of the story with you all. Pick your team, folks.

Profile Image for Lukasz.
1,265 reviews201 followers
January 9, 2019
You’re all slaves. But I will free you. I will drag you from this place kicking and screaming if I must.

Sequels are hard. As a reader, I want to know what happens next but when I’m about to pick up a sequel to a book that devastated and enthralled me impatience and hunger mix with anxiety. What if the story I loved loses a sense of direction or disappoints? It’s happened more than once. 

After I finished Kings of Paradise, I wasn’t sure how and if Richard Nell could top himself. I mean, where do you go from there? To the inevitable clash of titans? Or maybe you twist things and prove readers wrong?

Nell did both. 

He delivers a heart-wrenching and devastating story with real, believable characters you care for despite their monstrosity. He doesn’t give much humor, save situational one. Instead, he gives strong intrigue, tragedy, and a terrifying insight into the inner workings of the greatest mind of a generation. 

Kings of Ash focuses on Ruka. It tells his story, unravels his past, and shows what drives him, and how he’s been made. It’s not a story for the faint-hearted as it contains graphic violence, physical and sexual abuse, mentions of rape, and cannibalism.

It’ll make you hate, love, fear and cheer for Ruka. It won’t give you the answers you’ll desperately need. Is he a mad prophet, a semi-god, god or something entirely else? I hope we’ll get the answers in Kings of Heaven in 2020.

Dala and Kale appear, but they get just a fraction of screen time compared to Ruka. Not a problem for me as I consider him one of the greatest characters in contemporary fantasy. To make things more interesting Nell gives plenty of exposure to another fascinating character from KoP - King Farahi. I was right to consider him complex and intriguing.

You may wonder if KoA is better than Kings of Paradise and as flawless as my ramblings may suggest. My answer may surprise you - no, it isn’t. It has minor flaws like repetitive descriptions of Ruka’s preternatural skills, especially near the end, or few long-winded parts of the story with small impact on the over-arching plot. Additionally, in places I found extreme and graphic violence disturbing and, perhaps, unnecessary. And then, there’s the ending. I’ll brood on it for weeks. Was it really the only way? 

That said, Ruka’s story made me experience moments od deep and genuine emotion and this means a lot to me. That’s the reason I’ll round the rating up and will await 2020 with growing impatience.

I don’t want to say anything more about this book. Because it is a direct follow up to Kings of Paradise, anything I tell you about the story of Kings of Ash will tell you how KOP ended. Let’s just say that the story develops in few timelines and when they converge, Nell will prove you wrong and then break you. I‘m not saying more. If you want the rest, go read the books. 

Profile Image for Jon Adams.
294 reviews57 followers
January 23, 2019
Ruka may be my favorite character. That's a bold statement because I didn't specify that he was my favorite character in this book, in fantasy, or even in books. That was intentional.

The growth he experiences throughout this book is phenomenal.

I'm not going to say much about the plot. But, damn, the twists in this will snap your head back. I was blown away quite a few times.

If you're interested in reading this one, you've probably read Kings of Paradise. If you have haven't read that one, what are you waiting for?

Disclaimer: I volunteered to help proof this book. I had purely selfish reasons for doing so as I got to read it before almost anyone. But, that in no way influenced my review. It did, however, turn me into the Bukayag of Words.

Bonus Disclaimer: I made the acknowledgements section!
Profile Image for Samir.
111 reviews173 followers
February 10, 2019
I'll try to write a coherent review (who am I kidding?) when I find some time. Or maybe I'll just write about Ruka, who is one the most fascinating characters I've ever had a pleasure to read about.

But for now, I'll just leave a short message for Richard:

Also, thank you for the nod in the acknowledgment section. You're too kind.
Profile Image for Jennifer (bunnyreads).
455 reviews66 followers
September 26, 2020
This was one hell of a book. It’s taken me weeks to gather my thoughts which are still all over the place, meaning this is more me just talking it out than an actual review. And truthfully, I really didn’t have anything new to add to all the great reviews that are out there anyway.

Kings of Ash picks up directly after the first book and the heart of this story is of course, Ruka. It’s been a couple of years since I read Kings of Paradise and I was glad to see a “what came before” included, though I found I didn’t need it as much as I though I would because Ruka, does tend to leave an impression.

In all my reading life, I have never felt so divided on a character as I was of Ruka. I loved him. I hated him. I freaking couldn’t stop reading about him.
Ruka falls in that muddy well, with characters like Jekyll/Hyde or Odetta/Detta, that walk on that razor edge for the audience (or at least this audience) of good and bad, redeemable or not?
His Bukaya identity can be brutal and remorseless. He craves the violence and destruction like I crave popcorn and I would never be able to root for a character like him, without the humanity (that might be too strong a word) that Ruka’s side of the personality brings to him.

I am not sure what it is that makes me want him to succeed in his goals. Bukaya certainly doesn’t deserve it and I’m not sure even that Ruka does. Maybe, it’s the obvious remorse, that we see through the dead in Ruka’s grove. Proof he does regret and remember each and every soul that has sacrificed for his goals?
Or, maybe, it’s because his goals are mostly altruistic and outside of a little deserved revenge for his mother, Ruka genuinely wants things to change for the better of society. And with that success we can hope he keeps Bukaya squashed down and feel “good” wins over “evil” making up for all the horrible things that were done to get there?

I don’t know the answers but whatever it was, it worked for me because here I sat, engrossed and rooting for this genius serial killer character, wanting someone to love him and fix his hurt soul, all the while wondering where the hell did my values go?

To continue on, I am just going to touch on a few other things that I liked, and a couple, I didn’t. I don’t want to get into too many spoilers (being this is a second book be wary- there may be a few) and it’s hard to stay out of them, with a character like Ruka, who is so much of the driving force behind the plot.

I loved how the Grove does double-duty as a kind of magic source, as well as keeping us in touch with the kinder side of Ruka. The grove also weirdly works as a way to remind us of past events like having visual glossary (maybe that’s triple duty then?).

Loved- all the scenes where Ruka pulls items, armour, weapons etc. through from the grove. They were incredible (check out the quote, if you’re reading on the blog). I am a visual reader and these scenes lit up my mind!

If I couldn’t have Kale (whom I missed a lot) for a good portion of this book, I have to say, I was happy with the trade-off for King Farahi, who quickly became one of my favourites. Especially his friendship? Alliance? Two men who admire each other but don’t trust each other? Not sure what to call the relationship that grew between Farahi and Ruka, but I loved every minute of it.

I did have some “feet finding” issues in the beginning of the book. I caught on fairly quickly I think, especially after I double-checked with few other bloggers (thank you Mihir, Lukasz, Swiff) that I was on the right track with what I was thinking.

Mostly though the “feet finding” had to do more with expectations. I had some serious theories how the story would run its course (some of those may still come about) and I expected things to go a certain way because this was a direct follow-up. This didn’t go in any predictable way, so, I kind of struggled for awhile trying to place events and people, not expecting to look back, before going forward.
It was a rather genius move in storytelling actually, and I get to eat my words for the second time this year about something that I said in an earlier review about a writing choice, that I wasn’t a fond of and the author came back and proved to me, I don’t what the hell I am talking about.

On that note- I do think this story could have used some trimming but I tend to think that about almost everything I read these days especially, the door stoppers. Mostly it’s because things get feeling repetitive and I catch myself skimming or putting the book down often.

Super strong follow-up to Kings of Paradise. I am really looking forward to completing this series with Kings of Heaven which came out a couple weeks ago.

Profile Image for The Nerd Book Review.
153 reviews70 followers
February 2, 2019
I’ll leave a more thorough review when I have a chance but this is getting a 5+ and will probably be on my favorite books of the year list.
I thought Kings of Paradise was a brilliant book but I didn’t love it, it was just a little too dark for my taste and my “movie in my mind”. The book felt like it was in black and white with the tundra and grim nature.
The setting of this book changed that black and white feel and the writing brilliance was still there. This book is just epic and the ending was so unsatisfying in the best way possible haha. I want the next book right away!

Ruka just might be one of my favorite characters in any book I've read in years. Jaelen from TRQW by Mark Lawrence is the only one that comes to mind immediately, he's such a fun and likeable character. Ruka is a monster in many ways but he's also earnest and truly trying to help his people even though they would have left him to the elements when he was a baby and shunned him when he was older.
His magic system in his Sacred Grove in his mind is just plain amazing. I'd put it on par with almost any other magic system I've read for coolness factor. His Sacred Grove adds so much to the development of his character in addition to driving the plot forward.
As a character I didn't care for Kale as much as the story continued on or as much as book 1. As he grew in his own powers he seemed to lose his humanity as opposed to Ruka who felt much more human to me the more powerful he grew.
The world building continued to be wonderful and I loved how the info dump sections were expertly woven into Ruka's learning of his history and his own growing power.
I felt like book 1 was brilliantly written but the bleakness caused me to see the world in black and white in my mind and that affected my enjoyment level. The setting of this novel enabled me to see in color and I absolutely loved it.
Profile Image for Rebekah Teller.
Author 2 books47 followers
March 17, 2019
This sequel to Kings of Paradise picks the story up where it left off, and we’re shown more progression leading up to a tragic and inevitable war. An attack filled with political risk jeopardizes the fate of the cultures on both sides. Three compelling leaders, each empowered in ways they don’t themselves understand, are set on a collision course that terrifies fate itself.

“I am not a man, Prince of Paradise. I am a thousand years of children buried nameless in rotten earth. I am the rage of their helpless mothers, weeping beneath an empty sky. I am the bitter fruit of frozen tears.”

Much of this book shows events from years past, to give the reader an exclusive sort of insight into the lives of Ruka, Farahi, and Kale. Fans of the first book will appreciate the deft storytelling and calculated ease at which the stakes are revealed. All along we’re haunted by the mantra: It matters why.

And why indeed. Ruka fights for his people, for a future filled with warmth, peace, and bounty, for something beyond mere survival. Farahi’s goals are much the same, a unified island chain surrounded by safe seas, a future in which his family line is secure. And Kale, who has risen to every challenge, driven by his love for others, continues to ascend in the face of turmoil. The author expertly weaves through the years and drama of their lives, building to a cinematic final battle that tore me open and left me in tears.

If you’re looking for epic high fantasy that’s vivid and grand, you will cherish this series.
Profile Image for Kyle Erickson.
344 reviews144 followers
July 1, 2022
I did not enjoy reading this book, the last 50-70 pages actively angered me, and I'm glad the book is over. But I can't give it less than three stars, because Ruka is one of the most complex, fascinating, and well written characters I've ever read about. Ruka is endlessly compelling, every single scene with him is interesting. And since he's like 80% of the book, that's a very good thing. Nell has his hands on a top tier character here.

Unfortunately, nothing much else worked for me in this one. I loved Kings of Paradise, and I was super excited for this one. I knew going into it that it would involve mostly flashbacks but as we got further into the flashbacks, my disdain for the overall structure of this series started. I simply don't think this is the way I want to read this story. Book two's flashbacks should have been in book one, and this series should have been told (atleast relatively) linearly. As it stands, the end of Kings of Paradise jumps forward in time in order to end on a huge cliffhanger, and then Kings of Ash jumps much further back in time in order to give that cliffhanger context, and then the ending of this book picks up on the cliffhanger in a way in which I felt was ridiculous and convoluted. Kings of Ash takes the miscommunication trope to new lengths I've never witnessed, to shocking levels of "people just need to open their mouths and use their words and there would be no problems".

The storyline in this book with Kale I didn't enjoy; his character is very different from where we left him and we don't get enough time with him to emphasize with his internal struggles. There was a section of the book where we hadn't seen Kale for hundreds of pages and when he showed up again I had genuinely forgotten what he was doing the last time we saw him.

Also the amount of 'quotations' around 'words' that don't 'need' quotations in this 'book' was insane. They were just used factually incorrect. If I was to say there are 100 incorrect usages of 'quotations' in this book, I do not think it would be an exaggeration.

For more positives, some of the side characters in this series are great. They keep me guessing with their motivations, and I enjoy reading about them. Nell writes great, compelling action sequences as well, and this series scaled from low magic to high magic in an awesome way that I want to know more about.

I'm willing to write this book off as middle book syndrome with some shoddy miscommunication tropes and continue on with book three, but I definitely need a break instead of heading straight into it like I planned. I have to finish it though, for Ruka.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,910 followers
October 6, 2020
Finishing the second book in Ash and Sand is like falling down a rabbit hole.

I read the first book and enjoyed it quite a bit. It was ALL about character development, characters beefing up (magically, I should add), and a ton of reversals that really spotlight a pretty vibrant world of much character.

The second book flips a lot of my expectations and gives us a VERY deep exploration of a character I expected to be a villain. Only... well. No spoilers. Suffice to say, I'm VERY happy to be going here and enjoying this.

Kings of Ash seems to be a better book than the first. I say seems, but that could only be because I've already gotten to know the characters and the world and this only seems to be pure icing on that growing cake. In other words, I may not be able to judge, objectively, because I'm already a fan and I'm rocking to the grand magical tale of empire-building. This is less warrior-kings and more fledgling god-kings. :)

Yummy, yummy. :)
Profile Image for Lynn K : Grimmedian.
134 reviews21 followers
January 17, 2019
Kings of Ash is a searing second installment from Richard Nell continuing the epic grimdark piece begun in Kings of Paradise. Haunting and complex, with graphic and violent events, Kings of Ash burns itself into the reader's mind. Emotional, heartbreaking, and bloody.

This book is Ruka's nearly in its entirety. It is the missing narrative that tells Ruka's tale in the time between his first discovering the northern islands, when prince Kale Alaku was but an infant, and the time of his return while Kale is months away from his home, sent to Nanzu in the north by his father king Farahi. The time lines are converging, the players in this epic fantasy are drawing closer together and the clash, filled with arcane power, is inevitable.

There is no way to describe the plot without spoilers for book one, so this is more about the characters than the story arc. Kings of Ash is a straight on continuation of events in Kings of Paradise and so much more. This is a character based story, the thoughts, feelings, actions, and abilities of the cast form the intricate and widespread world building. Ruka's journey of knowledge while in Pyu and beyond is detailed and takes center stage while we also get a look into the past of King Farahi, his sister Kikay, and the events that shaped Kale's life, shaped Pyu, and shaped his father, the sorcerer king of the islands.

Ruka is from the far off southern continent of the Ascom. It is a poor land with poor people, cold, harsh, and ruled by a matriarchal society. Ruka knew only the harshest kind of life as a child with his mother, but she loved him fiercely before her death in his adolescence. After a time as an outcast and an outlaw where he becomes a ruthless killer seeking revenge for her death, he has become a rune shaman of the Ascom, wielding his knowledge of his mother's book of sacred runes to influence and lead outcast or outlawed men. He constantly remembers her words telling him that he can conquer the world. He gathers men who are displaced, not chosen by women and outcast in Ascom chiefdoms and had created a following of loyal men, then sought revenge against the priestess and law keepers who he feels are responsible for his mother's death.

The deformed Noss touched giant with an eidetic memory, Ruka had only known love as a child, but soon learns the evil of men, then of death and betrayal. He is a single born child. Rare in a land where most mothers give birth to twins. His rage against those who would harm him, is so great and brutal that Ruka's personality has split in two, compartmentalized and divided, and he carries his brother, a raging demon of violence, Bukayag, within his mind. The two converse frequently throughout his narrative.

Excerpt:*He let the cold sea spray catch his face as he leaned off the ship. He reached his hand to wipe his eyes and felt the flesh curved and wrinkled on his brow. He felt down past the lumpy cheeks to a bulging jaw, crooked teeth exposed and locked. He supposed Bukayag was smiling.

One can only imagine the suffering of a man who cannot forget a single moment of the pain, cold, brutality and starvation he has endured. Each sight and sound he has ever experienced is always with him. Every horror he has witnessed, every loss suffered, every killing blow dealt, is as if it were just yesterday. Time cannot heal his heart or quell his rage. Ruka has built a place within his mind to which he retreats, the grove, where he has rebuilt his mother's house and it is populated by the dead. Every single person he has killed. The dead work for him there in silence, tending gardens, digging graves for those he kills, working the forge, building things as Ruka discovers a wealth of knowledge in the North, and he goes there to both rest and work, often while his body is in Buyaka's control. Ruka does his best to restrain his berserker brother's constant urge to simply kill, but when the rage begins or there are life and death fights to be fought, he lets Bukayag have free reign.

Ruka has found what he considers paradise in the warm and lush, fertile lands of the north in Pyu. When the monks of island of Bato agree to let him train as an initiate, he discovers that the runes he learned from the Galdric book of the Order, are also within the temple of the monks there. He has found his people's origins in Bato and what he feels is their birthright. The richness of life in Pyu, the island paradises, knowledge, and culture he feels should also belong to the oppressed men of Ascom. He is bent on conquering the world and giving it to his people.

Where most books of this size and scope could have easily fallen off in pace and content, Richard Nell instead takes it up a notch higher quite deftly. The story is unpredictable and addictive, proving Ash and Sand will be a series of surpassing excellence.
Profile Image for Pat.
49 reviews2 followers
February 22, 2019
Words. How to use them? I've forgot.

Kings of Paradise was more or less my entry into the self-published world and it blew my mind. Kings of Ash has collected all of that brain matter, compiled it back together into a fleshy ball, and blown it up again. I'm still shocked that, at this moment, Kings of Paradise isn't over 1,000 ratings on GR. Blasphemous in my opinion, but again, in the self-published world there are so many amazing authors still hovering under the radar (though I think Nell is starting to get the traction he deserves).

This is Ruka's book, you know, the cannibal boy from the last one? He still does some cannibalizing, but not as much as I had hoped for, weirdly. Instead, he accomplishes feats both wondrous and monstrous, but more than that - he becomes one of the most interesting characters I've read in fantasy. He is blessed and cursed with an eidetic memory, has a somewhat split personality between the living and his 'grove' of the dead, and has more ambition than anyone I've ever met in fiction or in reality. My heart broke for him, and at the same time loathed him for some of his actions. Up until the very last chapter, I wanted to shout "NO!" at him, and then immediately after, cheer him on. I've read other grim-dark characters that have tried to fill these shoes, some of them pretty good, but none fit as snug as Ruka does.

Other characters take to the light as well, Farahi being one of the most notable in my opinion. We get to see beyond the vale of Kale's POV from the first book and get to the heart of the man. Other characters rise to the occasion as well - some of my favorites, Egil, Birmin, Dala. Kale of course gets important POV time, but not nearly as much as in Kings of Paradise. But again this is Ruka's book, and his time to shine.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I greatly missed some things in the first novel, namely the alternate time lines. You think the years stamped at the beginning of chapters would of alerted me to the fact, but nope. I think it goes to show though how well Richard has executed this, it all melds together so smoothly. So Nell managed to do that to me in this book, as well as a few other, holy shit moments where my understanding of the world was flipped upside down and spun. And the ending... I stayed up for at least an hour last night in bed thinking about it.

This book is not without it's imperfections however. There are some lengthy bits of character exposition that I tended to skim through at points, and some side character ARCs that felt tucked and squared away too quickly, or perhaps just paved over by the explosive race to the finish line. I've only read these two of Nell's books (I hope to get around to his flintlock novellas), but in both of them there is an insane quickening of pace in the last ten to twenty percent. I don't mind mostly, I'm invested, raring to see it all go down. But some things do seem to get lost in the reckoning of it. This sounds negative maybe, but the good heavily outweighs it.

This is an amazing addition to the Ash and Sand Trilogy, and suffers none of that feared middle book syndrome. I am blessed and cursed to have started my year with it. Blessed because it's phenomenal, and cursed because I will be holding every other book I read this year to this standard.

Read this book.
Profile Image for Mayim de Vries.
577 reviews803 followers
Currently reading
September 10, 2020
Halfway through. I have already been caught off guard by the surprises Richard Nell has in store for the reader. So far, no second book syndrome here.

I wanted to thank Richard, who is both kind and brave, for sharing his work with me.

Also in the series:

1. Kings of Paradise ★★★★★
Profile Image for Brent.
383 reviews38 followers
December 11, 2022
I like Nell's unique magic and combat and Ruka is an awesome character who I enjoyed spending time with. I also enjoyed Nell's writing. It was pleasant and had some really good lines that made me take notice without being obtuse or difficult. These are the things that keep it from getting a House of Sacrifice-esque 1 star.

I did not enjoy ending book 1 on a cliffhanger but then making book 2 a 450 page flashback out of 505 pages. Also none of the other characters are compelling for me and I got bored. Even so I was enjoying the writing enough to be fine until the last 50 pages or less when I think it got stupid. So it turns out Ruka vs Kale is only the result of huge and stupid use of the miscommunication trope. Add on top of this the lazy way Nell executes it by having Kale kill his father before he can explain. Then Kale dies so the last book is going to be about the conflict with the Emperor who was pretty much completely absent in this book. Pass.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for David Firmage.
212 reviews42 followers
July 19, 2021
Great follow up to Kings of Paradise. The story didn’t unfold how I guessed from the first book, that's why I am a reader and not a writer. Ruka is now one of my favourite characters, a complex Karsa.

Also love the bullet point summary of the plot so far. I wish this was a regular feature from publishers.
10 reviews1 follower
January 21, 2019
I've read hundreds of fantasy books and this series is hands down my favorite that I have ever read. The writing is immaculate, the story intricate, complex and fascinating, the characters the most unique and wonderful that I've ever read. This series is a true feat of imagination.

This second installment sees the seeds planted in the groundwork of the last book come to fruition. It is better in every regard (not to say the first book was bad, it was phenomenal), from the character development to the plot, everything just flows flawlessly.
Profile Image for Logan.
213 reviews60 followers
January 27, 2019
I loved this book and was genuinely surprised by a few of the major plot twists.

This book was better than book 1. The author has become more confident in his characterization and the prose is even smoother. The main character of this book was not my favorite from the previous book, but that didn't matter because this book really made me appreciate/understand him to a much greater degree.

Really enjoyed the setting and cultures of the world. These descriptions were a highlight of the book for me.
Profile Image for Mihir.
645 reviews295 followers
October 18, 2019

Read full review over at Fantasy Book Critic

ANALYSIS: Sequels are incredibly hard as first time writers have often talked about. It gets trickier when your first book gets near universal acclaim. Richard Nell finds himself in such esteemed company along with Rothfuss, Lynch, and A. Ryan. For us reviewers it gets trickier as those first books are sheer magic. How does one compare the sequels to them?

To discuss this book will be very spoilerific and so I’ll do my best to reveal as little as possible. Richard Nell really outshines himself with this one as he gives Ruka the space to shine. When we last met Ruka, he was diminished in battle and mind. Not trusting his ownself and left with a death wish of sorts, he takes a boat and ventures out in the northern seas. Thinking that he’ll die, he finds that fate has much more for him when he reaches the islands. Taken prisoner and soon forced to revert back to Bukayag. Ruka’s journey will have him learn what truly his life’s mission is. Meet someone who might be his intellectual equal and also figure out more about his mental grove. This book is all about Ruka as you can surmise and the surprises in it only lead to more questions.

With Kings Of Ash, Richard Nell circumvents the Kane vs Abel approach that was so evident in his debut Kings Of Paradise. With this book, there’s a major twist right in the first few chapters that wasn’t evident in the previous book and I thought that was a very devious one. This book is almost all about Ruka Ruka and how he’s gained his abilities. We get to see where and how he ended up in the Pyu islands and what befell him. There’s also Kale’s chapters as we find out who and what he’s become after his temple sojourn. He’s constantly flummoxed by his abilities but finds himself becoming more and more powerful as the days go by. Lastly there’s very little of Dala but she shines in the meager amount of page time that she gets. Her presence makes her reunite with Ruka and they find out what it is that they have to do. Now that Ruka brings back word of the impossible.

Richard Nell has truly given readers a great gift with Ruka. He’s an enigmatic savant who has taken it upon himself to right what he sees as life’s injustices. The first book we saw Ruka’s childhood and saw why he became the way he did. He was brutal, a bit bloodthirsty and trying to figure out whether he was a monster or a mistake. In this book, Ruka truly finds out what he can do (and it’s big). What his destiny is and finally someone who treats him for the genius individual that he is rather than the grotesque monster he might seem to be. This book really goes in-depth about Ruka’s thoughts and we get some more gems like:

“There is only fear and failure. The world is cruel to the weak. How they suffer does not matter.”

“Success is often luck and to think otherwise is arrogance. Your burden is only to try. Face your path with courage, and let come what may”

There’s some crazy magic stuff which even though unexplained, ends up being a lot cool. I can’t wait to see what the eventual reveal is about. The story really takes the slow route in showing each and every step of Ruka’s evolution. While I really enjoyed this, I’m not sure it will be to everyone else’s liking. The story’s pace takes a backseat in this regard but only because we get a thoroughly detailed look in the happenings. The world-building is really expanded as we get a solid look into the Pyu Islands, the monastery and possible origins of the Ascom people. All of this and more is revealed which made the read such a rich one.

We also meet king Farahi and get a more in-depth look at his thinking process as well as his past. He’s a cipher from Kale’s perspective but from another, he’s still a cipher of sorts but there’s a humane side of him which we get to see. We learn what and how he thinks, what moves him and who is it that he trusts. After reading the Farahi sections, I desperately wanted to re-read Kale’s sections from Kings Of Paradise.

The only complaint I have about this book is its ending which brings me back to my first point about this story not going the Kane vs Abel route. The last twist actually hearkens back to the rivalry that’s showcased from the first book and we get a culmination of that. However the ending is an odd one as both protagonists do things that run counter to what’s happened so far. This I can’t talk more without massive spoilers so I’ll leave it at that. But this was the sole point that I would say was off for me.

CONCLUSION: I don’t want to say anything more about this book. Because it is a direct follow up to Kings of Paradise, anything I tell you about the story of Kings of Ash will tell you how KOP ended. Let’s just say that the story develops in few timelines and when they converge, Nell will prove you wrong and then break you. I‘m not saying more. If you want the rest, go read the books.
Profile Image for E.Y.E.-D.
342 reviews40 followers
February 26, 2019
This was one of my most anticipated books for 2019 and it definitely lived up to and surpassed my expectations. Ruka was by far my favorite character sin the first book, him being the primary focus in this installment was a great.

This story told of a different side of Ruka that we had yet to experience in Kings of Paradise. We learn a lot more about what he is capable of as an individual and how he grows into a leader for his people.

Kale and Dala get very little time which was much different than the first book but I had no problem with. We learned what we needed about them and then got on with the story. I appreciated that there were no unnecessary chapters about them just for the sake of variety.

We do get some point of view sections from both King Farahi and a new character Arun both of which I found to be very interesting. Learning about King Farahi as a person as opposed to just his interactions with Kale was nice. I found Arun to be a particularly interesting character.

The story itself was amazing. I thought I had a pretty good idea where things were headed and boy was I wrong. I completely missed the time line in Kings of Paradise which lead to quite a few surprises once I got started on this one. The way Mr. Nell intertwined the lives of the characters was pretty impressive and I am looking forward to seeing if any characters whose roles we thought were over will show up in the finale.

There are so many amazing things that happened in this book that I would love to mention but it is hard to do so without spoiling the experience so I will just say that if you have read Kings of Paradise you need to read this immediately, and if you haven't then you are missing out on an incredible journey and you should get started on it right now.
Profile Image for Raysa.
97 reviews29 followers
February 20, 2019
Solid Sequel to a Great Series So Far

Actual Rating: 4.5 stars.

Well, I can see why so many really enjoyed this second book. Despite my preference for Kale over Ruka chapters in the first book, I found the insight provided in this book on Ruka's background and motivations to be very beneficial in weaving the story of this series.

We spend more time in the past than the present in this book (at least compared to Book 1), but things that weren't clear at the end of the last book become a great deal clearer. Ruka's ability to execute his vision is astonishing considering the myriad of challenges he faces. Seeing the magic of The Grove expand is also incredible.

The story flows pretty well in this sequel, though there are still some pacing issues and some sentences that just feel oddly phrased, which catch you out of the reading experience. There is a bit less suspense here, though there are some mid-story cliffhangers.

The end of the book had me gasping. I won't speak too much about my reactions because that would involve spoilers, but I will say I had mixed feelings about all the action at the end. Also, I think the last words said by a character in the book are some of the most eerie and menacing I've read. I have to know what happens next!!

If you enjoyed the first book, I don't think you'll be disappointed in this one! If you were already a big Ruka fan, you'll probably like him even more. Add this to your collection and definitely give it a read.
Profile Image for Lucas.
229 reviews
February 11, 2022
Amazing, phenomenal, epic, intimate. No middle book syndrome here, actually whatever the opposite of middle book syndrome is what this is. I usually have mixed feelings on "subvert expectations" but this does that in incredibly smart ways that retroactively makes the first book richer. Adds many layers and shades of gray to existing characters and plot points that may have seemed straightforward in the first book but now they're anything but.

I thought the writing was already strong in the first book, but in this one you get really awesome and rousing speeches, great internal monologues, and interesting political machinations. Nell continues to play with the structure of traditional fantasy in interesting ways that makes it exciting to see what's going to happen next, but he does it in a way that is internally consistent and starts panning out to reveal the tapestry of the story that he's revealed slowly and deliberately.

This is very character driven and the characters are one of the huge strengths here, Nell takes a lot of risks with how he divides his time up between his characters, but the result is one of my favorite conflicted characters in all of fantasy that has a lot more layers than initially thought. Maybe one of the downsides is that we get less of some of the other characters, but a lot more focus in the main plot thread also allows for more depth and nuance.

Can't wait to see how it ends.
Profile Image for Farès.
135 reviews9 followers
April 25, 2019
Loved how the characters developed.. this was such a good follow up to the previous book in all the glorious ways possible..
..was afraid at the Y/A turn around the end, but weirdly it was OK after all..
..can't wait for the next book..
Profile Image for DaMaar.
437 reviews6 followers
January 21, 2019
Masterfully Written

It’s depressing reading this book 20 days into the new year. I KNOW this will be the best (at least top 3) book I’ll read all year.


1) The authors use of the staggered/flashback timeline was so seemless with the other MC’s POV I didn’t notice it until the SECOND book of the series.

2) The author must see everything in shades of Grey. The “villain” was so obscure I didn’t realize it wasn’t someone even seen in this book until the epilogue. Once again the author shows a fascinating ability to foreshadow - it was someone seeded a whole book previously.

3) The use of Magic was very well done - usually you have the cookie cutter forms of a slapdash magic system that’s easy to follow and everyone can neatly understand by the second paragraph. Not this world/story. The magic users are few and their powers are not comparable- it’s life based - each gift melds to the person based on life experiences. Again unique.

4) The ending - it was so surprising. Really not something I want to spoil just read and enjoy.
Profile Image for Katharina.
156 reviews4 followers
June 1, 2019
I am at loss of words. Utterly stunning and satisfying second installment that left me with my mouth wide open in disbelief about what happened in the last 70 pages.
I am a fanatsy lpving book aficionado for more than 20 years now and hardly ever have I read such a masterfully crafted second book.
I don‘t like to compare authors to other authors but if you have read Sandersons „Mistborne“ Trilogy and couldn‘t grasp how artsy he drafted his books and the conclusion you will LOVELOVELOVE these books of Mr. Nell.
Don‘t get me wrong - the content is not similar at all, I just compare their unbelieveable ability of telling a story, surprising the reader again and again and leaving me in total disbelief that I habe to wait a year for the third book.

Thank you, Mr. Nell!
I loved Sulla. I nearly cried for the father and the boy, and am definitely shattered. You kept me curious and craving for more of your words!

The books are available at the kindle unlimited program - and guess what - regardless I had to buy both of them.
2 reviews
May 8, 2019
Second installments of trilogies tend to sag more than women in their twilight, but luckily for us readers, Richard Nell is a master surgeon with the ability to lift the saga to new heights by rounding out the world and supporting it with deep dives into our favorite characters' psyches.

Kings of Ash grows with the series rather than apart from it, which means fans won't be tempted into trading up for another low fantasy half its age. Instead, this book is a reminder of why we fell in love in the first place. Grimdark and all.
8 reviews1 follower
January 18, 2019
I am really growing to like the land of Ascom, the people of Sri Kon, the Empire. More importantly I still love the characters. Ruka has slowly grown to become one of my favourite characters of all time, no question.

This book is a continuation of the story, I was not awed at the depth of the world like in the first book. Instead this book provided a lot more meat (haha) to the characters from the first. I had thought I understood Ruka from the first book, I was wrong, this book really expands upon him and gives him real motivations and purpose.

In the end I found myself enjoying this book more than the first. I believe it is because after the first book of getting to know the world and characters, this one really allowed me to sit back and just enjoy the ride.
Profile Image for Hassan TheAthenian.
Author 1 book8 followers
November 2, 2020
I just...

You know how after rereading a book sometimes people decide to rate a book lower than they did before?

That's not what happened.


But the problem is I can't because there's only five stars.

Goddamn Nell is a genius. A bloody awesome genius.

Ruka is a love letter to the Barbarian character, and he's so, so damn good.

Ruka, in the books, eats teenage boys because he's hungry and has nothing else.

Ruka spends years saving a people who shunned him.

And Ruka hasn't even gotten laid yet. It's a travesty.

I love Ruka.

I love Kale too. But he's bit of a hypocrite.

Dala... Uhm oh well. We'll see what she's up to in the final book.

Oh Farahi... Damn.

Good book.

Nay, great book.

(reread: 2020, October 29.)


(First read through review.)

Incredible. Truly amazing. I had minor annoyances but those were swept away by the awesome characters, writing, and world building.

Can't wait for the final one.
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