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Ash: A Secret History Paperback – 1 Feb 2001


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Product details

  • Paperback: 1120 pages
  • Publisher: Gollancz; New edition edition (1 Feb 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1857987446
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857987447
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 4.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 274,459 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Mary Gentle's Ash kills her first man when she is eight, and at 20 is an experienced captain of mercenaries in the small wars of the late Middle Ages--but not quite the Middle Ages we know from history. The more scholar Piers Ratcliffe works on the evidence, the more knowledge and recorded history and the rules of evidence crumble under him--this world of Visigoths with ceramic robots and of the religion of the Green Christ is nothing he knows of. Ash hears voices, but not like those of Joan of Arc--voices that give her very specific advice about the winning of battles. Married against her will to a man who despises her, but whom she lusts after; finding that the Visigoth general is her twin; coping with the day-to-day problems of battle and siege and mayhem, Mary Gentle's Ash is a magnificent creation. This long, passionate novel, blending historical fantasy with thoughtful speculative fiction, is as smart about the minutiae of medieval war-making and manners as it is about the wilder reaches of contemporary cosmology. --Roz Kaveney

Book Description

A magnificent and gritty dream of the 15th Century: a stupendous canvas soaked in blood and magic and tears.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By "mpalsson" on 6 Mar 2004
Format: Paperback
Ash - A Secret History seems to have ended up with a fantasy label, but I don't think that's where it belongs. There are fantasy themes in it, but overall it's rather difficult to categorise. I would say that it starts out as historical fiction, but gradually turns into a pure Science Fiction novel. That probably sounds like an unusual combination, and this is indeed a very original book. Some would most likely even say weird.
I was confused right away. Having passed the title and publication info pages I found myself reading an introduction by a historian named Dr Pierce Ratcliff about how he was proud to present a new translation of the famous "Ash material", with references to obscure medieval documents, previously unpublished material, 19th century translations, yadda yadda... "What in the name of the Light is this?", I thought.
Luckily the confusion wore off after a while. It is Mary Gentle who wrote everything in this book, but she presents it as if it is an authentic medieval document that has been translated by Dr. Ratcliff. Not only that, every chapter is followed by printouts of the e-mail correspondence between Ratcliff and his editor, turning this into a story with a past and a present plot line. At first this seems odd and rather boring, but when you get into the book it actually makes sense.
However, the main part of the book is set in late 15th century Europe and is an autobiography of a female mercenary captain named Ash. A woman leading mercenaries during that era is something of an anomaly, but that is only the beginning. The reason she became the leader of the band is that she never loses, and the reason she never loses is that she has a voice in her head that gives her tactical advice during battles. Suspended disbelief yet? If not, I have more for you.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 20 May 2002
Format: Paperback
This is the best fantasy of any sort which I've read for a long time. In the character of Ash, Mary Gentle has given us a wonderful robust alternative 15th century mercenary with a decidedly politically incorrect attitude to the morality of death and battle but one which is believably of its time and with which the reader cannot help but empathise. If on occasion the development of some of the supporting characters seems a little weak this is more than made up for by the "main cast" of well drawn and intriguingly flawed soldiers and camp followers. The author has obviously researched the period in loving detail but it is the fascinating deviations from history and religion as we know it which keep you guessing about the nature of the ultimate threat. The battle scenes are intense and vivid and although this is a long book I never found it dragging. Other reviewers have complained about the mix between the history and the historian but I found the two styles worked well together, the modern stuff giving me chance to catch my breath between the great chunks of ever thickening late medieval mayhem. The siege of Burgundy is a superb "set piece" and the resolution managed to surprise me despite the hints that had been dropped earlier.
Don't miss this book. It's a long, sumptuous and totally gripping read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A. Wallis on 16 Mar 2007
Format: Paperback
It saddens me to see people calling this novel too complex. Yes, there are complexities, but we need challenging material out there to get us thinking and lead us to places we wouldn't normally be able to reach. This kind of book is an antidote to all the simplistic pulp out there that takes little or no effort, but also offers no real substance.

Ash's adventures take a bit of effort to follow, but the rewards more than outweigh the difficulties, and when you reach the end, you can feel very satisfied with what you've read.

To those who think this is a difficult read, I suggest Foucault's Pendulum, by Umberto Eco - now that really is hard work compared to what you get out of it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 4 July 2000
Format: Paperback
Ash is one of the greatest fantasy novels ever written. There may, it is true, be some argument about its status as fantasy, rather than alternate history or SF - but, whatever its genre, it is one of the greatest novels of that genre.
Ash, the heroine, is a late 15th century mercenary captain, and the novel takes place in the final months of the Duchy of Burgundy. At first, with a couple of very minor details (not unparalleled in actual chronicles of the era), the novel seems to be purely historical - but then, gradually, things change.
The novel keeps moving through over 1100 pages without faltering: there is scarcely a line, let alone a page, that does not advance the story - in ways that always arise from the story but can still often surprise the reader. The characterisation is superb, with a realistic account of the difficulties that a mercenary captain of the time (especially a young female one) would have had. Historical facts, when not intentionally (and clearly) changed, seem to be uniformly accurate: Mary Gentle's research has obviously been thorough.
The one partial exception to the above, in my view, lies in the fact that the novel is presented as a near-future edition of a series of accounts of Ash's life, with both editorial footnotes and a series of letters and emails relating to the edition's publication appearing between the chapters of the novel. Here, the characterisation is rather weaker, and the reader may be tempted to skip them. However, this would be a mistake: they are essential to the final resolution of the novel.
To conclude: if you buy just one fantasy novel this year, buy this one.
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