This book is Ruka's nearly in its entirety. It is the missing narrative that tells Ruka's tale in the time between his first discovering the northern islands, when prince Kale Alaku was but an infant, and the time of his return while Kale is months away from his home, sent to Nanzu in the north by his father king Farahi. The time lines are converging, the players in this epic fantasy are drawing closer together and the clash, filled with arcane power, is inevitable.
There is no way to describe the plot without spoilers for book one, so this is more about the characters than the story arc. Kings of Ash is a straight on continuation of events in Kings of Paradise and so much more. This is a character based story, the thoughts, feelings, actions, and abilities of the cast form the intricate and widespread world building. Ruka's journey of knowledge while in Pyu and beyond is detailed and takes center stage while we also get a look into the past of King Farahi, his sister Kikay, and the events that shaped Kale's life, shaped Pyu, and shaped his father, the sorcerer king of the islands.
Ruka is from the far off southern continent of the Ascom. It is a poor land with poor people, cold, harsh, and ruled by a matriarchal society. Ruka knew only the harshest kind of life as a child with his mother, but she loved him fiercely before her death in his adolescence. After a time as an outcast and an outlaw where he becomes a ruthless killer seeking revenge for her death, he has become a rune shaman of the Ascom, wielding his knowledge of his mother's book of sacred runes to influence and lead outcast or outlawed men. He constantly remembers her words telling him that he can conquer the world. He gathers men who are displaced, not chosen by women and outcast in Ascom chiefdoms and had created a following of loyal men, then sought revenge against the priestess and law keepers who he feels are responsible for his mother's death.
The deformed Noss touched giant with an eidetic memory, Ruka had only known love as a child, but soon learns the evil of men, then of death and betrayal. He is a single born child. Rare in a land where most mothers give birth to twins. His rage against those who would harm him, is so great and brutal that Ruka's personality has split in two, compartmentalized and divided, and he carries his brother, a raging demon of violence, Bukayag, within his mind. The two converse frequently throughout his narrative.
Excerpt:*He let the cold sea spray catch his face as he leaned off the ship. He reached his hand to wipe his eyes and felt the flesh curved and wrinkled on his brow. He felt down past the lumpy cheeks to a bulging jaw, crooked teeth exposed and locked. He supposed Bukayag was smiling.
One can only imagine the suffering of a man who cannot forget a single moment of the pain, cold, brutality and starvation he has endured. Each sight and sound he has ever experienced is always with him. Every horror he has witnessed, every loss suffered, every killing blow dealt, is as if it were just yesterday. Time cannot heal his heart or quell his rage. Ruka has built a place within his mind to which he retreats, the grove, where he has rebuilt his mother's house and it is populated by the dead. Every single person he has killed. The dead work for him there in silence, tending gardens, digging graves for those he kills, working the forge, building things as Ruka discovers a wealth of knowledge in the North, and he goes there to both rest and work, often while his body is in Buyaka's control. Ruka does his best to restrain his berserker brother's constant urge to simply kill, but when the rage begins or there are life and death fights to be fought, he lets Bukayag have free reign.
Ruka has found what he considers paradise in the warm and lush, fertile lands of the north in Pyu. When the monks of island of Bato agree to let him train as an initiate, he discovers that the runes he learned from the Galdric book of the Order, are also within the temple of the monks there. He has found his people's origins in Bato and what he feels is their birthright. The richness of life in Pyu, the island paradises, knowledge, and culture he feels should also belong to the oppressed men of Ascom. He is bent on conquering the world and giving it to his people.
Where most books of this size and scope could have easily fallen off in pace and content, Richard Nell instead takes it up a notch higher quite deftly. The story is unpredictable and addictive, proving Ash and Sand will be a series of surpassing excellence.