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Carthage Ascendant : The Book of Ash 2 Mass Market Paperback – February 8, 2000
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In A Secret History, the first of a four-volume series, Mary Gentle began the story of Ash, a mercenary captain, and her band of 800 veterans embroiled in a war in 15th-century Europe. As the war assumes epic proportions, Ash--who hears a tactically astute voice in her head--becomes a sought-after commodity. Gentle, a writer who delights in confounding reader expectations, used as a literary device the insertion of e-mail from a present-day scholar and his editor to set up a series of intriguing questions about the main narrative: Are the Carthaginians' stone golems fantastical, or explicable in terms of alternate history? Is the shocking dimming of the sun evidence of magic, or of technology impossible in that milieu? Is Ash touched by God, or the end result of a careful breeding program? In the second volume, the author grins impishly and replies, "Yes."
Gentle keeps the reader enthralled on two levels. In the main narrative, Ash's enforced sojourn in Carthage is described authoritatively and viscerally. We believe in Ash, in her shock and pain and denial when she finds herself a slave in enemy territory. We understand her occasional despair, cheer her final refusal to give up, and absolutely delight in her hard-won escape and her satisfaction at once again donning armor and taking up her sword. However, it is the secondary narrative that adds depth. Gentle gives us explanations with one hand and takes them away with the other, while simultaneously posing ever more fascinating questions. The intertwined narratives reflect and complement one another, adding layer upon layer--and the sheen of brilliance--to the series. --Luc Duplessis
"One of the best fantasies I've read in the past 15 years, bar none." -- S. M. Stirling, author of Against the Tide of Years
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This novel gives a very gritty, realistic view of life in the 15th century. Right from the start the reader is confronted with the mud, blood, sweat and pain of the life of a soldier. Gentle is not afraid to hurt or kill her characters. Even though the story is brutal and often horrifying, it is always a compelling read.
"Ash: A Secret History" is presented as the translation of a manuscript, complete with footnotes explaining some of the archaic terms. The correspondence between Pierce Ratcliff, the fictional scholar who is translating the work, and his editor Anna Longman, is inserted between the chapters of Ash's life. This correspondence adds an entirely new dimension to the story, explaining some of the anachronistic expressions and some of the differences between Ash's version of history and our own. Another reviewer called this novel a combination of fantasy and scholarly mistery.
Mary Gentle, an accomplished scholar herself, acquired an MA in War Studies as part of the writing process of this novel.
"Ash: A Secret History" was advertised in the UK as "the largest single-volume fantasy novel ever", which is quite possibly true at 1100 pages. In the US, however, the novel was split into 4 separate volumes: "A Secret History", "Carthage Ascendant", "The Wild Machines" and "Lost Burgundy".
The story continues with Ash still dumbfounded that the Visigoth General named The Faris ,whom she has a resemblance to, is invading nearly all Europe in such a hastely fashion. After a battle ensues against these Visigoths, Ash is taken captive to the heart of it all. Carthage. While there she is told and begins to unfold her being and why she hears these "voices" in her head. Thus begins the great escape.
Ash is a woman with power and she knows how to use it. In this book Ash is reduced to a prisoner. She is use to being on the other side of the coin. She suffers not only mentally but emotinally as well ( as any prisoner should ). Like I mentioned earlier Ash was a headstrong captain of The Lion Azure, now her pride and self esteem are thrown out the window. And that my fellow readers is real. She begins to show signs of fear, obviously, to a point of wanting to strike a deal with the very same people trying to destory Burgundy so that she may live another day or more. She'll say anything and do anything for her life. I think thats great, a real capture of human emotion.
While the book is heavily story driven near the middle and the end, I found at times struggling to get thru the book. This book nearly took me 3 weeks to finish. The first one I finished in a little less than two weeks. I admit there are some slow times in the book. At times I felt the book was getting a little overly descriptive about things and I admit I skipped over a paragraph or two from time to time. Its a step down from the first book in my opinion, but still a good book.
I was tempted to give this book only three stars. The first fifty pages of the book, as well as the last hundred, were exciting and very engaging reading. Unfortunately, the middle two hundred or so pages did not do much to advance the story. The problem was that not much really happened. Sure, we learn some important backstory and a lot of the relevant politics, but it was severely bogged down with superfluous scenes and interior monologues that could easily have been cut without losing anything from the story.
The main reason I didn't give it three stars was the fact that there were so many mysteries that were hinted at in the first book that were unearthed in this one that it made for some very interesting reading. We learn about Ash's past, what her voice really is, as well as more of the history of the world in which she lives. In addition, the final hundred pages were so full of action and military operations, that it was impossible to put the book down. This is the type of action that I had been expecting in a book about a mercenary captain that seemed so sorely lacking in the first book. The author also hits us with another revelation and an even bigger mystery in the last portion of the book. I couldn't wait to get to the next one in the series and see if we didn't find out what was truly going on.
Despite the shortcomings of the storytelling in the middle of the book, I still felt that this was a better than average fantasy story and, thus, felt compelled to give it a four star rating. If you enjoyed the first book in the series (and you'd better read it before trying this one), this one should also grab your attention. This is a must read series for any fantasy fan, especially for those who enjoy stories with a military bent.