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Reviewed by Gemma Lovewell
Opening sentence
A story strong enough to hook new fantasy fans, reviewed by Gemma Lovewell
October 11, 2022

The Unflinching Ash is a book that was intriguing from the moment I picked it up. It has an appealing cover that suggests a typical fantasy scenario – a strong woman in a medieval-type setting. The blurb adds to this with references to witches and the Mystic path.

However, this story doesn’t closely follow the conventions. It was different from what I expected, and this was a good thing as it captured my interest straight away, and kept me hooked to the end. The book tells the story of female mystic Ash, as she takes on a dangerous mission to gain the favour of the Queen. Along the way she must protect herself from those who wish to see her hanged, burned, or drowned.

The author creates a very strong protagonist in Ash, who is fiercely determined in her quest to earn the Queen’s Seal. The book has undertones of politics and feminism in its male-dominated setting of mystics and witch trials. I loved the quote: "What is a witch, but a woman who understood something a man did not?"  The book also indulges a touch of romance, but this develops subtly and adds to the story, rather than distracting from the main plot.

I found the descriptive language to be quite precise: ’opaque clouds,’ ‘constraining flamboyance’ and ‘haughty menace’ are examples of adjectives that leaped out at me until I became used to the writing style. Similarly, some old-style language was used, such as ‘vexed her greatly’ and ‘thrice as tight’. Again, this took a bit of getting used to, as it was a contrast to other books I have been reading recently. But by relaxing into the story, the words soon fit the characters and the world of their existence.

I think the book has a great ending which is clever, amusing, and satisfying. I do like a satisfying ending! At the same time, I think the world is developed enough in this book to make the reader want more stories created within the setting. If not a sequel, then an offshoot could come next, as it definitely feels like it could be a series.

All in all, I think this is a very good read. The Unflinching Ash is a well-told story that surprised me in all the right ways. It is a book that might hook those who don’t normally read fantasy, as it is inspired by real magicians, and has a somewhat historical context. Those who already enjoy fantasy will connect with it easily. Because of the slightly challenging language, the love story, and the feminist theme that comes through, I think The Unflinching Ash is ideal for sophisticated readers over 12 years. It would be a great book to see in college libraries and English classrooms. I look forward to reading more from Angela Armstrong in the future.

- Gemma is 16 and lives in Masterton
Author & Illustrator: Angela Armstrong
Publisher: Norsou Books