Ember and Ash by Pamela Freeman
Orbit, 2011. ISBN 9780733624223.
(Age 15+) Recommended. A fantasy set in the Last Domain of the Eleven Domains, Ember and Ash is a companion volume to the Castings Trilogy and is set some twenty years later. Ember is going to marry a young lord to join two warring lands and hopefully bring peace. At her wedding, the ceremonial fire changes into the elemental Fire God, roaring into huge flames and murdering her husband to be. Ember vows revenge and refuses to accept the Fire King's act of putting out every fire over the land. Instead she enlists the aid of Ash and a group of young people, and sets off on a quest of retribution to find a spark that will light the fires again. Their task is monumental and will involve more than tracking down the Fire King. They will also have to struggle against the Ice King who is determined to take over the world.
This was an engrossing story of a young girl coming of age. Ember demonstrates great strength and courage as she tracks the elusive fire spark that she needs to save her people. She is prepared to put everything on the line in the name of duty. Ash is a worthy companion who champions her and their bittersweet love for each other is slow and gradual. All the secondary characters were vividly described and also came alive, battling the elements and domestic problems, in the case of Arvid and Martine, the rulers of the Last Domain and Ember's parents. I was thrilled to learn about the original Ash, beloved by Water, and see a younger Ash, brave and determined set his own course. In fact I became so immersed in some of the stories of the minor characters that I wished that Freeman had written several books instead of one with these people in it!
A wonderful world and atmospheric setting make this novel come alive. The idea of warring elements, Fire, Ice, Water and Wind, is not new but here was given a depth and originality that kept my interest. I became engrossed in the cold, harsh environs of the North and the customs that the people had developed to survive the climate. The supernatural nature of the link between the gods and humans and rituals like stone casting were fascinating.
These books written for adults by Freeman are also perfect ones for the older teen, and will be enjoyed by both boys and girls. Readers who like these could move onto adult books by Juliet Marillier, Kate Forsyth and Trudi Caravan.