Friday, January 26, 2024

Pillar of Ash by H.M. Long: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Pillar of Ash by H.M. Long

Pillar of Ash is the fourth book in The Four Pillars fantasy series. It used to be Hall of Smoke series, but for this final book they’ve changed the series name for some reason. It’s a Norsk inspired fantasy world according to the author, though not in such an obvious way that readers would easily recognize the inspiration. I took it to be a mix of Native American, Asian and Roman cultures; mostly tribal with direct interaction with gods, and one large empire in constant war with them.

First two books followed Hessa, an Eang warrior who set out to kill false gods. Third book followed Thray, Hessa’s adopted niece as she journeyed to north to find her origins. Fourth book follows Hessa’s twins Yske and Berin.

Yske is a healer who has learned her trade with Aita, a former goddess of healing. She’s partaken in the secrets of the Hall of Smoke and received godlike features herself. When her excitable twin informs her that he’ll form an expedition party to search the edge of the world, she goes with him to keep everyone safe. As a parting gift, Aita gives her the ability to miraculously heal almost every wound. But it comes with a great cost.

It’s not an easy journey and Yske’s skills are often needed. The final task waits at the edge of the world. She needs to revive a near immortal who has been resting in ice for several years, someone who has personal meaning for her. But if she does it, she’ll launch the end of the world.

The book is told in Yske’s point of view and the reader follows as she struggles with the consequences of her healing powers. Her patients aren’t always grateful and the reader is left wondering why she bothers. Berin especially is so annoying that only a sister could love him enough to travel to the edge of the world for him.

In hindsight, nothing really happens in the book until the party reaches their destination. There are creatures to fight and a journey to endure. But something is constantly going on, so it doesn’t matter. The entire plot happens in the last third of the book. There’s a great build-up to the world ending—and then it’s dealt with a literal deus ex machina solution that Yske has no part in. She and the reader are left to watch it from the side.

Thinking of the series as a whole, none of the follow-ups rose to the brilliance of the first book. Thray and Yske didn’t have Hessa’s trauma and rage that propelled her to journey to kill the false gods. Yske’s motivation for following her brother wasn’t compelling, and although she grew to be an interesting character, she relied too much on her godly gift to be a similar underdog facing the gods as her mother was.

Nevertheless, the book was a good conclusion to the series. Things were nicely tied up and this reader is satisfied. Still, there’s a lot to explore in the world yet, so if the author decides to continue, I’ll definitely read more.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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