ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Cover illustration by: Derek Murphy
Kings of Heaven by Richard Nell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: Ash and Sand (Book #3 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Grimdark Fantasy
Pages: 411 pages
Published: 1st September 2020 by Richard Nell (Self-published)
Kings of Heaven has carved Ash and Sand as one of the best fantasy trilogies I’ve ever read.
“A man fails in only two ways, my son. He quits, or he dies.”
Here we are at the end of the road of another incredible series. Kings of Heaven is the third and final book in Ash and Sand trilogy. Unlike Kings of Ash, there’s only one timeline to follow here, and it continues immediately from where its predecessor ended. I honestly can’t talk much else about the details of the plot; almost every unfolding event in this book can be considered a spoiler for the previous books, and as always, I don’t want that to be the one to ruin your reading experience. However, if you’re here reading this review, I’m going to assume that you’re looking for the answer to the most important questions to be asked in the last installment: “Does it live up to expectations? Does it conclude satisfyingly? And is the series worth investing our time and money if we haven’t started it?” I’m going to answer these three questions as spoiler-free as possible.
“A spear held with weak hands could still kill. Any man, great or small, could rise with will alone to protect his life, unbroken before the world.”
Kings of Heaven didn’t just live up to my expectations, it sky-high exceeded it. I genuinely believe that Nell has outdone himself. It’s not often I find a trilogy that thoroughly immerses and also surprises me time and time again; Nell went into a narrative direction I didn’t predict, but somehow the overall story and developments only seemed to improve because of it. I’ll elaborate on this with an example within this trilogy: the choices of POV characters. In Kings of Paradise, almost the entire novel was written from the perspective of Ruka, Kale, and Dala. In Kings of Ash, though, it was almost all told from Ruka’s POV. By this stage, my expectation automatically led me to think that Kings of Heaven will be told mostly from Ruka’s POV as well. However, that isn’t the case here. Kings of Heaven utilizes multiple POV characters—more than five characters—and you know what that means? Handled by a less competent author, these changes could’ve backfired miserably; believe me, I’ve witnessed this happened several times. Not going to lie, the lack of Ruka chapters in the first half of this book did make me worry, but there was never any need for concern, Nell knows where he’s going with his story, and everything ended up clicking superbly.
“Were I you… I would not tally the cost of history. One never knows where that might end.”
At the core of the narrative, Ash and Sand is a series about Ruka, the son of Beyla. Kings of Heaven, however, reminds the readers that Ruka’s tale is not just about him and his missions anymore. Ruka is one of my favorite characters of all time, he has both experienced and caused so much suffering, destruction, loss, and deaths throughout the series. He’s an avatar of devastation, change, advancement (depending on your perspective), and the epic—plus larger—scopes of the story in this book features many POV from characters that Ruka, Kale, and Dala have met throughout their journeys. Kings of Heaven concluded everyone’s main story, not just three main characters from Kings of Paradise, and I honestly didn’t expect to find myself invested in other characters other than Ruka, Bukayag, and Kale, but I certainly did. Osco, Aiden, Egil, even Kikay and Dala! This is a big deal because Dala’s story was the downside of the first book for me, but Nell was able to successfully make me care about her overarching story; I actually wouldn’t mind her having more spotlight here. These kinds of overturning expectations, unpredictability, and how everyone’s journey converged in culminating an intimate narrative about legacy, culture, war, peace, discovery, and redemption are a few out of many reasons why Kings of Heaven surpassed my expectations.
“Fight your doom… Fight for those still rotting in ditches, scorned by those who should praise their toil. Fight for those who have never known love, or victory, until the mountain claims you, you will not fight alone.”
Not only Kings of Heaven provided an extremely satisfying and fitting conclusion to the trilogy, but the overall reading experience of the novel itself was captivating from the first page to the last. Let me be clear about this, there’s always something going on in Kings of Heaven; no chapter felt redundant. Characterizations, character development, fascinating world-building, and compelling battle sequences are all here. As I mentioned in my review of Kings of Ash, the series has transformed into high fantasy territory, and this point is emphasized extensively as we watch a more terrifying display of power and miracles unfolds. Seriously, there were moments in the final quarter of the novel that filled me with elation. Nell’s writing can conjure cinematic and vivid feels; I was able to felt the whirlwind of chaos, see the deadly conflagrations unleashed, and hear the sound of lightning. Witness the battalion of death’s glorious charge of doom that would make Karsa Orlong from Malazan Book of the Fallen proud. Read this book for yourself; the intense duel, the brutal siege, and the insane magical confrontations deserve your utmost attention.
“I am what you think I am—a monster sent from hell to devour the evil hearts of men. Do what I tell you, little thing, or be punished.”
Before I close this review, I would like to say that I was gripped (in every sense of the word) by the narrative. It seems like the more I read, the more I realize the vast differences between reading a good book and a VERY good book, especially during these crazy times of pandemic where concentration seems harder to muster. It took me only a few sittings within two days to read this beast, and that’s not an easy thing to achieve lately. I was reading this book when Hugo Awards 2020 took place, and I also had a rare blogger event (invited by the publisher) with both Adrian Tchaikovsky and Christopher Paolini; I totally forgot to attend both of them. That’s how engrossed I was; I simply couldn’t put Kings of Heaven down. Although the themes in the trilogy were more often dark, bleak, and violent, it never felt overwhelming, and Nell highlighted the importance of appreciating language, different cultures, and working together despite differences in this spectacular conclusion; I enjoyed reading every moment of it.
“There is no dishonor in fear. Your people are wealthy and prosperous. You have much to lose, but also much to gain. Greatness is not forged idling in cold comfort, but in the fires of mortal danger.”
To fans of the series so far, I firmly believe that you’ll enjoy this conclusion. For fantasy readers who haven’t started the series at all, I’m going to assure you that this series is worth spending your time and money, even more so if you’re a character-driven epic/grimdark fantasy enthusiast. Crowning Ash and Sand as one of the two best self-published fantasy series I’ve read so far—I loved it as much as I loved The Paternus Trilogy by Dyrk Ashton, and I loved it more than Cradle by Will Wight—may not be enough because the statement appeared to imply that self-published/indie fantasy is inferior to traditionally published fantasy in terms of quality, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth; it is on par, same with traditionally published books, you just have to know where to look for the gems. Let’s end this review with a cliché statement instead, Kings of Heaven has cemented Ash and Sand as one of the best series I’ve ever read. Packed with memorable main characters, sublime characterizations, pulse-pounding actions, fascinating world-building plus magic system, accompanied by vivid scenes and engaging prose; what else do you want out of this bloody spellbinding, and most importantly, absolutely satisfying conclusion. This is the end of the road. The tale of Ruka, son of Beyla, the Butcher, the Unbroken, the Godtongue, the deformed genius with golden eyes who could see in the darkness, yet sought the light, and also the individuals he met on his blood-soaked journey ends here.
I’m genuinely content that I’m able to read this series from the beginning until the end. It has been a blast, I know I’ll be doing a reread of the entire trilogy one day, and I have a good feeling I’ll love it even more by binge rereading it. I’ll definitely be looking forward to reading Nell’s next work.
“We are all only observers of the past. Not one line can be changed, no glory reproduced… This is a hall of knowledge. Here on its shelves is good and evil, great and small. I will pass it on before the end, and let those with the desire draw what wisdom they can.”
Ash and Sand: 14/15 stars
Official release date: 1st September 2020
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
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