Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “A Secret History (Book of Ash, #1)” as Want to Read:
A Secret History (Book of Ash,  #1)
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

A Secret History (Book of Ash #1)

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  640 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
There Is More Than One History Of The World...

In the mid-fifteenth century there was Burgundy, the jewel of Europe - opulant and powerful, the undisputed center of an uncivilized world.

In an epoch of war and madness there was Ash. A girl born in mud and dung, she slew her first men while only eight. Scarred and ravaged, but still beautiful, she rose up to lead a great merc
Paperback, 424 pages
Published October 2nd 1999 by Eos (first published January 1st 1999)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about A Secret History, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about A Secret History

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Nov 24, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: meh, blog
The story of a female mercenary in the 15th century, A Secret History: The Book of Ash has an interesting premise, so I settled in with a hot cup of coffee and prepared to witness Ash kick ass, preferably Tarantino style. And then I waited . . . and waited . . . and waited . . . and it's the last page . . . and, holy shit, no ass kicking in sight! Not one can of whoop-ass opened. This, of course, pissed me off.

I'm not really sure how to describe A Secret History, but I can list what I consider
Mike (the Paladin)
I must confess to a great deal of disappointment in this book... And that's for a couple of reasons. First, I read all kinds of glowing reviews on this (these) book(s). I read "if you like military fantasy you'll love these". It (they) were compared to many of the books I like greatly....

So I did something I've done in the past and said over and over I wouldn't do again. Since the books were hard to find I tracked the entire series down and bought them.


This seems on the face of it as if it
FEELING: Gritty warfare; lots of context in regards to the Medieval era (excellent usage of Medieval names and armor descriptions); runs slow at times; several interesting alternative Historical results. CONCEPT: It is the time of mercenaries as the Middle Ages come to a close; a mercenary female captain, based somewhat on Joan of Arc, is given special military powers to fight her enemies; but, Europe is about to fall to the Empire of Carthage. MARKETING APPEAL: Main appeal to those who are inte ...more
Jul 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like to read about alternate history
Title in German:
Die Legende von Ash 1. Der blaue Löwe

The historian Pierce Ratcliff discovers long lost manuscripts about Ash a female captain of mercenaries in the late 15th century Europe. The more he translates this work from Latin to todays English the more he gets convinced that the history of this time period wasnt like our established records suggests. What if there could be found evidence of this alternate history? The subplot in this novel is Ratcliffs e-mail correspondence with his edit
Jul 11, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy, fiction, series
A Secret History is actually two stories in one, though you wouldn’t know it by reading the description on the back.

The primary story/text in the book is the story of Ash, a female mercenary captain living in 15th century Europe. The story begins when, at the age of eight, Ash kills two men who attack her in the mercenary camp where she lives. From there, we see Ash again as a teenager, learning the arts of war, and finally as an adult and the leader of her own mercenary company. But Ash isn’t s
Jun 26, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
Born and raised in a mercenary camp, the only thing Ash knows how to do is survive. She fights like a man, dresses like a man, and thinks like a man, but the men who are a part of her life won’t let her forget that she’s a woman in a man’s world—which is Europe in the mid-1400s. Despite this, by her early teens she has her own army of 50, and by the time she’s twenty she has 800 fighting men who are well-known throughout the region for being the best.

As the book opens, she’s contracted with King
Kim Headlee
May 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
When it comes to depicting violence and sex in 20th century fiction, two modes dominate. The first -- and my preference as both a reader and a writer -- involves dropping intelligent hints to stimulate the imagination. The second reveals every grunt and thrust, every leakage of every bodily fluid. To say that A Secret History employs the latter technique would be a gross understatement. This book should sport a warning sign: "Do Not Read If You Are Pregnant Or Have A Heart Condition."

Mar 17, 2016 rated it liked it
Interesting but not compelling. Strong start; goes downhill some. The interludes where the 'researcher' talks theory with his publisher for this new secret text were all I cared about at the end. Looks like further books are out of print but I am not sure I would be digging for them anyway.
Mar 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People who love realistic battles and midevil history
Recommended to Abigail by: It was on my reading list for my British Sci-Fi and Fantasy Clas
Shelves: fantasy, read-2008
Ash kills her first men when she is 8 and by 18 is the leader of her own mercinary army. She is one of the best mercinary captains in midevil Europe, and has to fight against constraints of her gender in order to get the job done. The battles are bloody, gritty and unpleasent, if not exciting. They depict what war really is, not what stories percieve it to be. I recomend this book to anyone who likes realistic battles and midevil history. Sadly, this series is out of print in America but can be ...more
John Robinson
Sep 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book helped keep me in a very demanding Medieval Studies program...
just because Gentle is that much of a frakking genius.
Said program hasn't panned out all that well employment wise, but you can't win them all...
and reading this book (and the series, but...really, this book is the most solid work)...
is a pretty great thing to take away from an entire college education (though I actually read this book in high school, I spent a lot of time staring at it while at ND)
Emme Greer
Apr 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful fantasy with some real historic figures intertwined. Bit confusing at first between time switching (present day and late medieval). But a great device once I figured it out. Loved the evidence of research on medieval weaponry.
Jan 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
For serious, if you took a drink every time it mentions a piece of armor, you would be dead of alcohol poisoning in 3 pages.

I can't quite decide if this counts as SF or fantasy, and I don't think I want to read the rest of the series to find out.
Aug 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I did not think I was going to enjoy this as it looked like Joan of Arc with a twist. but I could not put it down. It combined two things I really love history and fantasy the cross over creeps up on you as you suspect that it is not a faithful representation of the past.

Even if you do not read heavy books it is worth the effort if you have the one volume English published version and not split out four volume version for the US market.

A note of caution is that this is likely to be a love it or
Catherine  Delos Santos
Mar 10, 2017 rated it did not like it
This book was painful. It had so much potential and the reviews were amazing. The writing is stunted, unable to engage, and just plain dull. I'd have to say that I found the ONE Danielle Steele book I read (in desperation) while in the hospital to be a far better read than this. I wanted to like it, but it just doesn't have the chops.
Dans ce bouquin, on suit les aventures parallèles de deux personnages : Cendres, une guerrière de la fin du moyen-âge, et Pierce Je-ne-sais-plus-son-nom, un historien qui tente de faire traduire un bouquin traitant de la vie de cette guerrière.
Ca commence assez simplement, comme bouquin, puisqu'au début, tout semble à peu près normal, aux licences littéraires près (fort bien expliquées, d'ailleurs, par Pierce bidule, qui nous fait bien comprendre que les "par le christ vert" et autres "bon dieu"
A.R. Hellbender
Sep 07, 2016 rated it it was ok
What I liked: a badass female protagonist, and the use of terms for different parts of armor and whatnot. The author obviously did her research and knows what she's talking about.

What I didn't like: the storytelling and writing style made it hard to connect to the characters and get immersed in the story. We don't get to know any of the characters very well besides Ash, and a lot of things about it seemed unrealistic. For example, I had a hard time believing that Ash lost her virginity at age 6
Jul 15, 2011 rated it it was ok

Essendo quattro volumi non mi sento di tirare le somme ora, dopo solo il primo. Per adesso posso dire che non mi sta entusiasmando (Ash, il personaggio, non mi coinvolge molto) però si fa leggere. Non ci si stacca facilmente dalla lettura perchè c'è qualcosa che ti fa andare avanti, comunque. Credo sia proprio perchè Ash è talmente "borderline" che la sua volgarità e rozzezza, anche se all'inizio mi creava del disagio perchè esagerata e portata all'eccesso
Jul 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Un très bon cycle de science-fiction, appelons ça comme ça.

C'est en réalité une double narration. Le récit est centré sur le personnage de Cendres, une femme mercenaire du XVème siècle, mais les éléments de ce récit nous sont transmis par le biais d'un écrivain contemporain, à travers les mails qu'il échange avec son éditrice lors de son travail de traduction.

On ne tarde pas à se rendre compte que les faits relatés s'écartent fortement de l' Histoire que nous connaissons par les livres... Croyan
Feb 14, 2009 rated it liked it
Livre acheté un peu au hasard aujourd'hui (14/02/09).
Je viens juste de commencer.
Plutôt agréable pour l'instant. J'aime bien le principe de l'échange de lettres entre l'éditeur et l'écrivain. Ça permet d'introduire l'uchronie vraiment finement...
J'attends de voir comment ça va évoluer.

----- Mise à jour livre terminé ----
Ce n'est clairement pas un chef d'œuvre de la littérature fantastique. De plus l'histoire a tendance à être un poil trop militaire pour être passionnante (et l'auteur rend l'amb
Jan 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical, sff
Wow, I freaking loved this. It's probably a 4.5 for me. It has one of my favorite things: a complicated but strong woman in power. But more than that, it appeals to the history nerd in me by toying with the narrative, making the reader question if they're reading about actual events or fiction. Yeah, there's description space devoted to armor, which probably won't mean much to modern readers, but easy enough to let that stuff float right past you. There's mystery enough in this entry, part 1 of ...more
Jun 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Breezed through this. Fast-paced. Alternate history with a good dose of Burgundian stuff (looooove). Heavier on historical fiction than on fantasy (throws in a few things like golems and saint visions). I saw some complaints about the email correspondence part of the novel, but I liked that A LOT since it referenced so many historical tidbits. Oh yeah, and a female mercenary captain. Ash wasn't what I enjoyed most about this book, but she was still pretty cool.

Apparently the other 3 books in th
John McCarthy
Jan 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
This alternate fantasy history of Europe during the mideval ages is a story of a grim period. The opening chapters are not for the faint of heart as Ashe's childhood is brutal. Mary Gentle uses hard hiring prose to depict a harsh life for those living at that time period. Ash is a successful mercenary captain who is guided by a voice in her head. She fights against the male culture to earn acceptance.

If you like your historical fiction stark and grim this is a story to read. The plot lines are
May 30, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Nope. Just couldn't get into it. Ash seemed like she was going to be quite the strong female protagonist, but she didn't really live up to it. The setup for the book is confusing...there's the story about Ash, but then there are other parts that are supposed to be a writer (or professor) researching Ash's history and arguing with his editor? about whether it's factual or not. Just didn't do anything for me.
Tony Hisgett
Jun 11, 2016 rated it did not like it
First of all I found the use of the pseudo historical documents and the introductory letters a bit annoying but what really irritated me was why the hell did Ash marry the idiot Lord when it was absolutely clear the mess that would ensue. She was a mercenary and could have quite easily threatened to walk away or if all else failed, just left. After this any credibility this story had was finished.
Aug 30, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction, fantasy
Sloppy writing. I can't handle the sudden, inexplicable switching from present tense to past tense - even within the same paragraph. It was confusing and pulled me out of the story. To be honest, though, the story didn't hold my attention anyway. The email exchanges between Pierce and Anna were not remotely realistic and it bothered me that Ash was totally okay with being married to a psychopath (a cowardly psychopath) because he was hot. Really? No thanks.
May 10, 2011 marked it as dnf
I think I need to set this aside and come back to it when I'm not still so mad about that women-warriors debate. I feel like I'm supposed to be finding this story empowering but instead am being dragged through her continuous sexual degradation. Grrr.

ETA: Finally admitting I'm probably not going to go back to this book--just not my cuppa.
Oct 11, 2010 rated it did not like it
Just too long and drawn out with nothing happening. It opens up all sorts of story lines without solving any, I guess the answers are in the later books. But I am so not into the unbelieveable bits that I can't go on. Also, it keeps stopping the story to have these lengthy dialogues between some fictitious historian and his editor. Totally annoying.
Sep 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. I haven't yet read the sequels (it's hard to find this book at bookstores), so there's some strings left untied that I am very curious about. But I'm eager to read them, and I vastly enjoyed this look at what it might have been like to be a medieval woman warrior. Very well written, comfortable and compelling dialogue, and lots of intrigue.
Jul 28, 2011 added it
Beware, this book starts strangely. At the beginning I didn't understood what it was : an historical study ? a fantasy novel ? the author suceed to give us a strange feeling not knowing what to expect. After the first 30 pages, you are taken in this strange world part medieval part fantasy. Great reading can't wait to read the second opus.
Mar 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
I liked the premise of the book and the beginning felt promising. By the time Ash here up she lost her appeal. She made stupid choices and I can't figure out why her men followed her. I got bored and kept reading just to finish it. The weird emails in-between the sections were jarring and I skipped them because they added no value to the story.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Newton's Cannon (Age of Unreason, #1)
  • The Extremes
  • Felaheen
  • The Ragged Astronauts (Land and Overland Series, #1)
  • Pasquale's Angel
  • Take Back Plenty (Tabitha Jute, #1)
  • King and Emperor (Hammer and the Cross, #3)
  • A Midsummer Tempest
  • Song of Time
  • Thraxas (Thraxas, #1-2)
  • Galveston (Resurrection Man, #3)
  • The Jonah Kit
  • Nekropolis
  • The Dragon Waiting
  • Lifelode
  • Terraforming Earth
  • Alternities
This author also writes under the pseudonym of Roxanne Morgan

Excerpted from Wikipedia:
Mary Gentle's first published novel was Hawk in Silver (1977), a young-adult fantasy. She came to prominence with the Orthe duology, which consists of Golden Witchbreed (1983) and Ancient Light (1987).

The novels Rats and Gargoyles (1990), The Architecture of Desire (1991), and Left to His Own Devices (1994), toge
More about Mary Gentle...

Other Books in the Series

Book of Ash (4 books)
  • Carthage Ascendant (Book of Ash, #2)
  • The Wild Machines (Book of Ash, #3)
  • Lost Burgundy (Book of Ash, #4)

Share This Book