In the Kingdom of Altoln, a powerful wizard assisted by an ingenious cleric releases what he believes to be a magical potion of purification; a spell that will purge the streets of the kingdom from all the criminals inhabiting it. But when the citizens of Altoln start dying in the thousands, the wizard understands that what he freed was nothing more than a pandemic; the Black Death. From mere circumstances, an unwillingly involved sergeant is now called to take part in an impossible quest in order to find a cure, or at least bring some aid. But with goblins, Inquisitors, and other mysterious forces at play, will Falchion manage to complete that formidable task, or are all citizens of Altoln doomed to perish?
"The onlooker had caused the deaths of thousands, and that fact, he knew, would hunt him until the end of his days. But this death... this death would not."
Ashman's debut is a complex and intricate work in which you experience a strange combination of excitement and dread. Great and in-depth characterization, unpredictable events, breathtaking fighting sequences and astonishing plot-twists are only some of the elements that you will find in the thrilling yet realistic world of the Black Cross; a world that somehow feels already established and not in the making, proving Ashman's unique storytelling abilities and detail-crafting skills. Reading all of this, you will probably think that the book has no faults, but unfortunately this isn't the case. Black Cross has a significant problem, for which the beta-readers are to blame. It is painfully, unevenly paced. While most of the book, especially the beginning and ending, is well structured and balanced with enough action events to keep you interested and entertained, a significant part is uneven, overstretched and therefore boring. If you are a slow reader then this may come as a problem, giving you the feel that you are stuck in the same events for a lot of pages, but if you are a book devourer then you won't even notice it.
All in all, Black Cross is an exceptional debut that I recommend to all fantasy bookworms and fast readers, and I strongly believe that with a better team of beta-readers in the future (and the experience he has already gained) J.P. Ashman will eventually come to be a household name.