One of the things I loved about Smoke and Stone was the dual narrative that provided perspectives from both sides of the conflict. I was left torn over who to root for. Ash and Bones left me even more so. Nuru, both appalled and embolden by her actions, seeks to reform Bastion, even if it means returning Mother Death to her seat at the head of the pantheon. She is torn between this and thoughts of a world without the tyrannical rule of gods, the latter of which is constantly encouraged by her companion, Ezra. Akachi, on the other hand (there is an in-book pun in there somewhere), fights to stop both, believing that a world without gods or under Mother Death's reign will destroy what is left of humanity. Both have valued justification in their actions and I felt like a judge in the grimdarkest of debates imaginable as both sides put forward their arguments in blood and death. Even now as I write this review, I find myself contemplating over which of them is more in the right. Or Wrong.
Bearing that in mind, this is a book filled with a lot of inner reflection. I do enjoy moments when characters reflect on their actions and argue their way through their thoughts to further action. However, I felt it was overdone here. It got to the point where it became a little predictable whenever Nuru and Akachi would stop to reflect on what they had done, what is happening and what could happen. Or all in three in many cases. At times, I wanted to skim these sections and just get on with the story. Nonetheless, some of these moments worked extremely well in shaping both characters and pushing the plot forwards.
Ash and Bones also contains some excellent supporting characters. Among these are the devoted Kofi, a Loa stone sorcerer; the seductive yet venomous Omphile, a god-touched assassin, and the fallible Mekokuhle, a captain of the elite warrior cult known as the Turquoise Serpents. Even the gods make appearances, many of which bear the coolest names you will ever find in a fantasy book: Mother Death (of course), Her Skirt is Stars, Southern Hummingbird, Smoking Mirror and Face Painted With Bells to name a few. But, the most interesting of these non-pov characters is without doubt Ezra, who might possibly play as just a pivotal role in the fate of Bastion as both Nuru and Akachi. I would love to see a couple of chapters from her point of view in the third book, if Fletcher is willing to break the dual narrative structure a little.
Having enjoyed the worldbuilding in Smoke and Stone, I loved the further delving into the history of this post-apocalyptic, mesoamerican-inspired world throughout Ash and Bones. Some of the best worldbuilding comes in the form of epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter. Like its predecessor, these are put forward as sections taken from the Book of Bastion (Akachi's chapters) and The Loa Book of the Invisibles (Nuru's chapters). Each epigraph details a particular aspect of Bastion, from its caste system and forms of magic to historical events and history of its various gods and goddesses, culminating in a wealth of worldbuilding that adds a strong sense of age and antiquity. Bastion feels ancient, real and lived in. With every new piece of lore, I found myself filled with more questions. I look forward to learning more about this grimdark world in the final book. It deserves a wiki, maybe even a published lore book. I would happily make space for a Book of Bastion or Book of Invisibles (or an amalgamation of both) on my bookshelf.
Finally, I want to acknowledge the excellent magic system Fletcher has created here which is expertly woven into every aspect of the series. Sorcery is powered through either narcotics or stone, both of which are as much inherent to the conflict at the heart of the plot as the characters. The wielding of such magic results in some truly awesome battles, terrifying moments (one scene down in a church stands out in particular) and trippy dreamlike sequences that left me in awe. I did get a little confused at times with the similar names, especially between tecuhtli, tecolotl and tezcat, and the various narcotics used for different purposes, but there is a detailed glossary at the end of the book to help.
Overall, I really enjoyed Ash and Bones. It has double the dose of narcotic-fueled madness that Smoke and Stone had, and is a solid entry in what is shaping up to become an excellent series. The City of Sacrifice, alongside Fletcher's other current series, The Obsidian Path, have in my opinion proven Fletcher to be one of the best grimdark authors in the fantasy community. I look forward to whatever madness he has planned next. Oh, and just a quick acknowledgement of the stunning cover art by Felix Ortiz. Not only is it very pleasant on the eye, but also truly captures the dark atmosphere of the book.
Many thanks to the author for the approved ARC in exchange for an honest review.