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Ash: A Secret History [Paperback]

Mary Gentle
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Feb 2001
For the beautiful young woman Ash, life has always been arquebuses and artillery, swords and armour and the true horrors of hand-to-hand combat. War is her job. She has fought her way to the command of a mercenary company, and on her unlikely shoulders lies the destiny of a Europe threatened by the depredations of an Infidel army more terrible than any nightmare.

Product details

  • Paperback: 1120 pages
  • Publisher: Gollancz; New edition edition (1 Feb 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1857987446
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857987447
  • Product Dimensions: 4.7 x 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 450,573 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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

ASH is a magnificent and gritty dream of the 15th century, a stupendous canvas soaked in blood and magic and tears --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Weird but intriguing 6 Mar 2004
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
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the effort 16 Mar 2007
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I've read in years! 8 May 2002
I bought this book, only because I'd read one other by Mary Gentle. However, I wasn't dissapointed, Ash is a fantastic read, made only better by its epic size.
The gritty, often slightly disturbing description, and language creates a sense of realism that I feel is sadly lacking from many titles.
I really did not want to finish this because I knew it would be a long time before I read anything that would compare.
Truly brilliant.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read! 11 Nov 2003
By A Customer
This is a great read, and a very special version of alternative history. The grizzly descriptions of hand-to-hand combat made me feel ill sometimes, but the setting of the story is magnificent. And since war is Ash's job, it seem only fair that we share that with her, along with the story of her amazing life.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I haven't read a novel this big -- 1120 pages! -- since Lord of the Rings, but I am really glad I gave it a try. Those already familiar with Mary Gentle's other work will not be disappointed. It has taken the author at least five years to bring this stunning, unpredictable novel into life and the final result is an excellent story, crammed with a cast of believeable characters, a gripping plot that kept me guessing as to the outcome, all told against a well-researched (but not quite the way we remember it) medieval history. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to read a fantasy novel where the female lead is a proven warrior rather than some Californian-based TV producer's wish fulfillment. What are you waiting for?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but flawed perhaps over-large hybrid novel
These were my thoughts at around the half-way mark:
It's interesting with abrupt shifts and a fluent style and so despite length it reads well and is not difficult to swim in,... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Literary Goshawk
1.0 out of 5 stars Ash A Secret History
The first few chapters are reasonably engaging, then the author seems to start losing the plot somewhat. Read more
Published on 23 Jun 2011 by TDan
4.0 out of 5 stars Ash Review
The 'alternative history' element of this book is undoubtedly fantastic. The setting, plot, characters, battles and writing style, all great. Read more
Published on 12 April 2010 by H. Haines
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite Alternate History book
Alternate History with a magical twist. Blood thirsty descriptions of warfare in the Middle Ages. A "Joan-of-Arc" figure rampaging through the story - and a cunningly intermingled... Read more
Published on 18 Jun 2009 by Mark Shackelford
4.0 out of 5 stars A vast and ambitious cross-genre epic
In the year 2000, an academic named Pierce Ratcliff is putting together a fresh history of Ash, a 15th Century female mercenary captain whom mainstream history has largely ignored,... Read more
Published on 24 May 2009 by A. Whitehead
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing mixture of myth, fantasy and history ...much stamina is...
My first suggestion for anyone considering purchasing Ash ( A Secret History) -especially the hardback edition - is give the arm you use to hold a book while reading a good solid... Read more
Published on 20 Sep 2008 by russell clarke
3.0 out of 5 stars Readable but not brilliant
"Ash - a secret history" has clearly been an ambitious project. The research - historical and otherwise - has obviously been time-consuming, and it shows. Read more
Published on 18 May 2008 by Iskariot
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical 'handstands'!
Overall, and mostly in retrospect, I found the 'fantasy' element to be mildly irritating. Whereas, I was enormously thrilled by the exciting reinactment of late medieval history -... Read more
Published on 24 Jan 2008 by P. A. J. Oswin
5.0 out of 5 stars Rich and strange alternate history
This is fantasy as its best, weird, intriguing and strangely echoing reality. You thin you're in a conventional middle age novel, till you hear of a "Green Christ" and of... Read more
Published on 9 Oct 2007 by Ventura Angelo
5.0 out of 5 stars 1100 pages and worth it!
OK, maybe it could have been condensed to 800 pages, but I found it enthralling. There was only one point where I found the pace noticeably too slow. Read more
Published on 25 May 2006 by C. J. Hicks
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