I hadn't read a book focusing solely on vampires for a very long time. I went through my vampire phase in high school, meaning I attended every single Twilight premiere and hung Edward posters on my bedroom walls and fought Damon Salvatore's fans online (Stefan girl here) and dressed up as a vamprire on Halloween etc. Later, I decided that I grew up and was too old for this drama. So, when Elena May asked me if I would be interested in reading an advanced copy of Kingdom of Ashes, it took me by surprise how eager I was to give it a try. And I am very glad I did.
Let's start with the plot, shall we?
“He didn't conquer the world. He destroyed it. He rules over an empty world of ashes and death."
The human world had progressed. The scientists created a device, the WeatherWizard, that could control the weather. But it turned out that this device was a fatal mistake, since a vampire named Vladimir organized what would later become the Nightfall; he hid the sun, and the vampires left their secret, dark hideouts and came to the surface, determined to make the world theirs by soaking it in blood. There were two types of humans they didn't kill; the most beautiful ones that were turned, and and the ones who were taken to the Farms, bred and raised in captivity as food supplies. But there was also a third group. The Resistance. The Resistance that suffered terrible losses and decided to launch an impossible mission, the assassination of Prince Vladimir. When Myra volunteered for the task, she thought they would decline. She thought she would die fighting of return a victor. But when she was captured, and kept alive for reasons she could not understand, she realized that the vampires were not the faceless enemies anymore, but beings with their own feelings, ambitions and desires. Surrounded by bloodsuckers that wanted to be her friends, torn between the need for revenge and the thirst for knowledge and culture, the urge to finish the mission and the unholy wish to stay in the Palace and enjoy what she was offered, Myra eventually became the author of her own story, and the impact of her decisions would alter the fate of the world. For better or for worse, it remains to be seen.
“This is war. The right way is the way that works. Your pseudo-conscience will one day doom mankind.”
I can't possibly deny that there were many clichés used in Kingdom of Ashes. A plain girl suddenly thrown into a court full of schemes and power games she doesnt' know how to play, an enemy with a tormented past and a depth she didn't expect to find, a world swallowed by darkness and fear in a dystopian environment, we've seen all these things before. But somehow, Elena May made them work. Mixing the post-apocalyptic with the medieval, describing with vivid (and sometimes morbid) details a blood culture that creeped you out but also fascinated you, she managed to capture your attention, to drive you insane with the desire to sink your teeth in this disturbingly delicious book that was not coloured in black and white, but in every shade of grey you can imagine. Yes the vampires are evil, and we witnessed their atrocities and cruelty many times. But they still can love, suffer and dream, they are the victims in their own story, the ones hunted like animals until they stood up and claimed the world for themselves. And precisely, this grey area, where you can understand the ways of the most dangerous creatures of the night, is Elena's greatest achievement in my opinion.
“Why does everything I learn about vampires involve either blood-drinking or orgies?”
“It is not either one or the other. The blood-drinking is a part of the orgies.”
Myra's character was refreshing. She wasn't someone who played the hero or was certain that her decisions were the best, she was just a girl that loved reading and writing stories and found herself in a precarious situation, trying to survive. What made her special was her ability to create, not her fighting skills or her snarky remarks, even though there were plenty of them. I understood her inner battles, I could justify her confusion and her reluctance to kill Vladimir, I could relate to her, even though I recognise some of her choices were stupid.
The vampires, they were all spellbiding in their own way. Vladimir was a riddle I could not solve, cunning and always one step ahead, enchanted by the human culture and fixed on preserving it, even though he was the one that drove it to the brink of extinction. I could never guess his thoughts and his motives, and despite his wickedness (or because of it), I was transfixed by him. Tristan was also an intriguing character I came to love, but I haven't made up my mind about Armida. If you are worried there might be a love triangle, I can assure you romance is not in the spotlight of this novel, it is barely there, but I can see the connection forming between Vladimir and Myra and I am curious about the possible consequences!
Kingdom of Ashes was a pleasant surprise, and I highly recommend it to paranormal lovers who are looking for a promising new author!
*ARC generously provided by the author in exchange for an honest review*