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DNF Q&A: King of Ashes by Raymond E. Feist

Title: King of Ashes

Author: Raymond E. Feist

Series: Firemane #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: DNF

The Overview: For centuries, the five greatest kingdoms of North and South Tembria, twin continents on the world of Garn, have coexisted in peace. But the balance of power is destroyed when four of the kingdoms violate an ancient covenant and betray the fifth: Ithrace, the Kingdom of Flames, ruled by Steveren Langene, known as “the Firemane” for his brilliant red hair. As war engulfs the world, Ithrace is destroyed and the Greater Realms of Tembria are thrust into a dangerous struggle for supremacy.
As a Free Lord, Baron Daylon Dumarch owes allegiance to no king. When an abandoned infant is found hidden in Daylon’s pavilion, he realizes that the child must be the missing heir of the slain Steveren. The boy is valuable—and vulnerable. A cunning and patient man, Daylon decides to keep the baby’s existence secret, and sends him to be raised on the Island of Coaltachin, home of the so-called Kingdom of Night, where the powerful and lethal Nocusara, the “Hidden Warriors,” legendary assassins and spies, are trained… (It goes on forever…)
-Goodreads

The Review:

When trying to make a decision on whether or not to read something, it can often be much more helpful to look at the low star ratings than the high ones. To that end I’m going to be including more DNF reviews in my lineup. I have a Q&A format here that I adapted from Nikki at http://www.therewerebooksinvolved.com (with permission…although it might be moot because she’s not blogging anymore), and I think it’s a great way to discuss the book constructively. Here goes:

Did you really give King of Ashes a chance?

Admittedly, I didn’t give it as much as I could have. I did make it to about 30% before tossing it aside, while acknowledging that this is one of those rare cases where it could actually have gotten better. It didn’t, according to what I gleaned from my book club meeting, but I was so fed up, it was a risk I was willing to take.

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre?

Yes. I’m considering this a more modern fantasy even though it’s written by a classic author, and most of my favorite works come from this genre.

It’s perfect in line with what I’d like to read.

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

Surprisingly, I went in with low expectations even though I’ve loved a few early works from this author (he’s a family favorite). But his later Riftwar books proved very unsatisfying, so I was wary of starting this one. Truth be told, had it not been a book club selection, I’m not sure I would’ve have ever made time to pick it up.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

Omg. The execution of the story. The basic idea behind the book was actually super interesting. Something I would’ve wanted to read in any other context. The prologue even had me giddy with anticipation, thinking, “this is going to be good.”

The first thing that threw me off was how the writing was very much at an arm’s distance from the story. Take a conversation between two characters as an example: instead of immersing you in the scene with back and forth dialogue, Feist would take you one step back and describe the conversation happening. Using each point brought up to launch into a couple page description of whatever info needing to be dumped at that point before closing the conversation with one or two lines. I noticed this also with setting. He went off on a ten page diatribe about this market setting instead of having his characters interact with it and dropping in details that way. I’ve no idea if this is a habit he had in his early works because it has been some time since I read them, but now I’m afraid to reread because I know I’m going to notice it now and it will irritate me. I highly doubt it was this passive, though.

The thing that ultimately made me put it down was the book’s very odd fixation on sex. I think it’s important to clarify that I don’t care one way or another if there’s sexual content in fantasy novels. Some authors can even use it to enhance character and provide comic relief (Abercrombie). But the very least I ask is that reading it doesn’t feel like I’m reading the sexual fantasies of a 16 year old, and that those fantasies are completely dominating the story. It was so bad. The characters were constantly thinking about and talking about sex, and when they weren’t, the narration picked it up describing why sex wasn’t allowed in the school or why so and so slept with so and so and it wasn’t until I got to the training brothel (because when you have a guild of spies, that’s the only thing women are good for, right?) I finally threw it down in frustration. This is not what I signed up for. And if you’re going to include sexual content in your books ad nausium, at least make it good sex! Holy shit.

Is there anything you liked about the King of Ashes?

The prologue. And the idea behind the story. He lost me completely on the execution.

Would you read anything else by the author?

I’ve read literally everything he has published (20+ novels) minus one co-written trilogy and a random stand-alone. I think the buck stops here though. I may read that outstanding trilogy eventually, but I’m in no hurry.

So you DNFed the book. Would you still recommend it?

No. Normally my constructive analysis allows me to figure out who might be a more appropriate audience for a given title. Or at the very least, I concede that it might be just me who didn’t like it. In this case, I know it bothered me more than most, but I still wouldn’t hand it to anyone and would actively discourage someone from reading it. It was that bad.

by Niki Hawkes