Rhett Burno asked me to read his novel From Ice to Ashes. Technically, it is a sequel to Titanborn (which I reviewed at this link) but the two stories take place simultaneously so it is effectively a stand alone novel. I will examine Plot, Characters, and Polish and then assign a grade.
This novel has several parts to it, story-wise. The first section feels like a slice-of-life world building sort of thing. Then it shifts into a more espionage-y thing and then into something bigger; broader in scale and higher in stakes. It's like a tunnel that expands as events take place and the protagonist develops.
Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters is a huge chunk of the narrative. Considering the Fantastic Racism involved in this setting and the living conditions of most Ringers, it is easy to feel sympathy for the Children of Titan despite the horrible things they do.
It has a good beginning, well, technically, beginnings because it has a prologue. The first, and thus the official opening for the story, is the immediate aftermath of a woman shanking her rapist. Yes, it is gruesome and it is a laconic view of the setting and conflict; the rapist was the Earther captain of the ship she worked on and being marched into his bedchamber on a regular basis was an unofficial job duty of a Ringer. The second beginning follows up on this, Kale Drayton staking out his Earther pickpocket target because it is the only way a Ringer can make a living outside of menial labor that pays next to nothing. This leads into a chase scene. It is a good set up for him, his situation and his conflict.
Though it is a stand-alone novel, I feel there is benefit to reading Titan Born first. It adds a level of context and detail to events that I find valuable. It is a Another-Side-Another-Story appeal as the protagonist of that book, Malcom Graves, is an Earther collector who investigates the crimes committed by the main cast in this book, who are Titan born (a.ka. Ringers). In particular, the stinger for this book will not make sense unless the reader has read Titanborn.
The ending is strong. It is a natural consequence of the initial conflict and the actions taken to resolve it. I kind of want to call it Protagonist Journey to Villain since it involves Kale moving from a pragmatic pacifism to a more ruthless pragmatism but maybe that is more Gaining the Will to Kill mixed with the setting's Grey and Black Morality.
Kale Drayton is the protagonist (using the term "hero" is debatable but he's definitely the viewpoint character). He is an average guy in as far as is "average" for Titan Born. That is, he is cynical, a clean freak, and intensely dislikes Earthers. In fact, he's unusual in that he doesn't like starting fights with Earthers.
He's also a Momma's boy. It is fair to say that everything he does in this story is motivated by his concern for her (whether or not she approves of what he does is of lesser importance).
Over the course of the story, I would say that his essential shift in character is to a different flavor of pragmatism. He goes from a self-preservation don't-want-trouble sort of pragmatism to a more opportunistic hit-them-where-it-hurts-most sort of pragmatism, which, in the long view, is still self-preservation. The progression makes perfect sense and is well executed. The ending is a dark sort of triumphant.
Maya is Kale's cynical mentor. She makes a foil of mother-figures with Kale's own biological mother. This is highlighted at the story's close in a magnificent and gruesome fashion. She also shows the distinction between a good field leader and a good organizational leader.
Captain Sanders is quite well constructed and useful for the narrative. He's friendly to Ringers, reasonable as a captain and employer, and is otherwise a gruff but nice guy. He even hires a Ringer to be his navigator for the simple reason that she is better at it than the Earther she replaced. Yet even he is part and parcel of the society oppresses and exploits the Titan born.
Mr. Bruno clearly put a lot of thought into this story's setting and it shows in the consistency of the rules and how they affect characters and the story. The interlocked nature of this story with Titanborn also shows how they can add value to each other but not be required reading. I think I saw a couple of mistakes throughout the book but I could be wrong about that.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "From Ice to Ashes" an A+
This has been a free review request. The author requested an honest review so I provided one.
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Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).