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ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Cover art illustrated by: Felix Ortiz
Cover art designed by: STK.Kreations
Dark Sea’s End by Richard Nell
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: Beyond Ash and Sand (Book #1)
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Grimdark Fantasy
Word count: Roughly 80k words
Published: 1st June 2021 by Richard Nell (Self-Published)
Dark Sea’s End is a heart-pounding return to the world of Ash and Sand, and I’m sure the future of it will be as brilliant.
First of all, Dark Sea’s End cover art is illustrated by Felix Ortiz and designed by Shawn T. King. I’m glad that one of Nell’s books finally got the Felix Ortiz cover art treatment. Not that his past cover arts were bad, but his books deserve something better. Those who have followed my reviews and my Booktube channel would know that Ash and Sand trilogy by Richard Nell is one of my favorite trilogy of all time; as a series, I think it’s the best self-published fantasy series that I’ve read so far. Hearing that Richard Nell has more stories planned in this world was a delight, and having it being delivered this quickly is even better. Beyond Ash and Sand is a continuation to Ash and Sand trilogy, and it takes place after the main events in Kings of Heaven. Those who have read Kings of Heaven will most likely know what the premise of this book is about.
“I sought paradise once. Now I know life is the same wherever it is found. The strong rule, the weak obey. There is no escaping it.”
Dark Sea’s End is the first book Beyond Ash and Sand series. Nell has mentioned that this series will at least be a trilogy of connecting standalone novels, and Dark Sea’s End should be accessible for new readers to his work; I usually distrust, or at least worry, when a book that takes place in the same world as its previous series is advertised as: “you can start from here.” Among many issues, this often leads to the main plot of the previous series being heavily spoiled. However, I think the author has lived up to this claim quite nicely; there are close to zero spoilers on what happened in Ash and Sand trilogy. The only spoiler I can think of is which characters survived the trilogy because two of the characters from the Ash and Sand trilogy appeared here as supporting characters.
“I will learn. So must you. To be without words will make us animals to them… I tell you what is true of all men. These ones will be no different.”
Dark Sea’s End is told through the perspective of three characters. First, the pirate ‘Lucky’ Chang who—secretly—loves and treasures his own crew. Then Zaya, a warrior and a skald from the land of ash who believes she has the destiny of becoming a hero in the book of legends. And finally, Yacat, my favorite POV to read out of the three main characters. All three characters are totally new POV characters in the world of Ash and Sand series; the two returning characters from the first trilogy—I’ll refrain from using their names—didn’t have a POV chapter here. Although the three main characters have a good and compelling narrative to them, I must say that Chang was my least favorite of the three. Zaya and Yacat’s POV chapters were the definite highlight of the book for me; the themes of destiny, sacrifice, honor, exploration, justice, and faith were handled incredibly well in their POV chapters.
“Zaya knew a thing wasn’t over until the very end—that life might change in a moment’s work, that the tales that lasted generations could come from a single act of courage and fortune.”
For the first quarter of the book, the story revolves around seafaring in uncharted water, and once Nell includes Yacat in the story, that’s when Dark Sea’s End reached the greatness of Ash and Sand trilogy. Like always, if you’re reading this book or any of Nell’s books, I’m going to assume that you’re—one way or another—enjoy reading grimdark fantasy. And this is shown through Yacat’s POV as an anti-hero. The theme of sacrificing everything—even if it’s someone you treasure—in the name of faith is hugely evident in Dark Sea’s End. Witnessing Yacat’s interaction with Zaya and the character from Ash and Sand trilogy was also one of my favorite moments from this short novel.
“But like the ancient spirits of the dead, or the fallen gods who ate souls, such spirits were only ever summoned by the deeds of man. They were a kind of dark justice, spawned by dark deed into the world. And Yacat knew in his heart they all deserved that judgment.”
The exploration theme in this novel—and I’m sure sequels as well—lives up to the title of the series. Beyond Ash and Sand is exactly that; the story ventures outside of the land of Ash and Sand that dominated the entirety of Nell’s previous trilogy. This deepens the world-building of the universe of the series, and it felt refreshing. Also, the relatively brief display of carnage exacted by the craftsman of death in Dark Sea’s End were brilliant and brutal.
“The sword felt a piece of his arm, his muscles fired with righteous purpose, all fear of death or error or misdeed some distant memory. In this moment, any man who came against him was the fallen servant of a lost god, and deserved no pity, mercy, or hesitation. Yacat gave them none.”
Dark Sea’s End sits roughly at 80k words. It’s a short book with a self-contained story, and I certainly would’ve preferred a longer form of the book, but it never lacks impact. If anything, this continuation to Ash and Sand trilogy just proves how breathtaking and gripping the world and story that Nell has created. I cannot wait to find out what’s next. A wise individual once said that we fail only if we quit or we die, and as long that Nell continues writing, I have no doubt that his success will continue to accumulate.
Official release date: 1st June 2021
You can pre-order the book from: Amazon
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
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