Many of the books that have shaped my reading life in profound ways have maps at the start. Before the reader finds any text they are invited to pore over the landscape of a fantasy world. There might be bordering countries, or a region, or a large city with all of its crooked streets picked out. Topographical details may be sparse or plentiful. Whatever the case, these maps usually herald my favorite sort of story: A journey, a courageous hero or heroine, and triumph over evil/survival/happily ever after to top things off.
When I picked up Leah Bobet’s An Inheritance of Ashes, all I knew about it was that I loved the author’s previous book, Above, and that it was set at end of the world. When I leafed through the pages and saw a map at the start, I had a good feeling – and the book did not disappoint. An Inheritance of Ashes is beautiful, fierce, sad, and by far my favorite of all of the books I’ve read in the past year.
Weeks after the final battle was won, sixteen-year-old Hallie and her sister, Marthe, are still struggling to maintain their family farm—and are waiting for Marthe’s missing husband to return. After a summer of bitter arguments, Hallie is determined to get Roadstead Farm through the winter—and keep what’s left of her family together, despite an inheritance destined to drive them apart.
But when Hallie hires a wandering veteran in a bid to save the farm, every phantom the men marched south to fight arrives at her front gate. Spider-eyed birds circle the fields, ghostly messages writes themselves on the riverbank, and soon Hallie finds herself keeping her new hired hand’s despite desperate secrets—and taking dangerous risks. But as she fights to keep both the farm and her new friend safe, ugly truths about her own family are emerging—truths that, amid gods, monsters, and armies, might tear Roadstead Farm apart.
Leah Bobet’s stark, beautiful fantasy explores the aftermath of the battles we fight and the slow, careful ways love can mend broken hearts—and a broken world.
This is the story of a family. This is the story of the aftermath of war. This is the story of a battle on the homefront. This is the story of survival generations after the apocalypse. This is a story about a teenage girl. This is a story about fear. This is a story about breaking apart and (maybe, eventually) healing. All of these statements are true, but they don’t tell you everything.
Hallie Hoffman is sixteen, and half-owner of Roadstead Farm. She and her pregnant sister Marthe are trying (and mostly failing) to hold themselves together in the wake of the war against the Wicked God – a war that took Marthe’s husband Thom, along with any innocence they had left. When she hires a traveling veteran, Hallie doesn’t expect it to spark anything, except maybe a prayer of keeping up with the farm chores. Secrets old and new follow, endangering and changing Hallie, Roadstead Farm, and their world.
Did that sound suitably ominous? The book isn’t all death and destruction – it’s a nice mix of tension with bits of light. The prologue made me cry in public, and that’s when I knew for sure that the book would wreck me. Things I liked? A) Hallie and Marthe’s messy sister relationship, and how that played into everything Hallie said and did throughout the story. B) The reality of broken relationships, and the saving grace of kindness, forgiveness, and second chances. C) A romantic relationship that was authentic to the setting, the characters, and the crazy situation. D) The immediacy and intimacy of the setting, without sacrificing big-picture world-building.
That last paragraph covered things I liked. Let’s go deeper (really dig in to Why this book is perfect):
1. Diversity! Included! In! The text! Like it’s no big deal! (spoiler alert: it’s 2016. this is the kind of YA SFF book i want/need)
2. Craft. The writing is just superb – not only poetic (it is, in a way that screams TRUTH while the emotion it evokes absolutely rends your heart) but intricately arranged for maximum impact – no word or detail is left orphaned. An Inheritance of Ashes is a masterwork. It is not only gripping and fantastically entertaining, but beautiful, in the way that Gregorian chants, or ancient temples, or roads thousands of years old are (to me). The sheer work that went into fitting every word like a puzzle piece to make a whole, of showing a little bit, but never letting on too much or boring the reader… is awe-inspiring.
I do not kid myself that An Inheritance of Ashes will appeal to everyone (it won’t, books never do in the end), but I know I can’t be alone in thinking that this book is just… art. ART, in all capital letters. Thinking about it makes me want to do better, and be better. It’s freaking inspiring.
Recommended for: those who enjoy science fiction and fantasy, and anyone who likes strong characters and spellbinding plot in equal measure.
p.s. Dear Leah Bobet, In case it wasn’t 100% clear, I’m a fan for life. Thank you. –Me