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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 31 August 2011
Sarah Ash's new trilogy opens with the artist Gavril Andar falling hopelessly in love with Astasia, the daughter of the Duke of Muscobar. Fortuitously he discovers that he is the son and heir of the recently assassinated ruler of Azhkendir, a buffer state between Muscobar and Tielen. Naturally he hopes that this might be the answer to his romantic problems. However, the Duke of Muscobar hopes to marry Astasia off to Prince Eugene of Tielen in a bid to avoid a ruinous war. To further complicate matters, Gavril soon discovers that he has inherited more than a bleak, poverty-stricken northern state. The dynasty to which he is heir is founded upon possession of (or, rather, by) a demonic force that will gradually devour his humanity but which he must use if he is to avenge his father's murder and defend his people against Tielen aggression.

The place names locate this novel rather too obviously in a mythical analogue of Russia. That quibble aside, Ash develops her world with loving attention to detail, building up a vivid picture of a late eighteenth century or early nineteenth century Russia without the external threat of Napoleon (we are told that Prince Eugene's father decisively defeated Francia in a sea battle a generation earlier) but also without the internal unifying force of a czar. The result is a collection of squabbling duchies at various stages of modernization. In some senses Muscobar is the most modern with the common people beginning to resent the aristocrats who exploit them. At the other extreme, Azhkendir remains thoroughly feudal much to the discomfort of Gavril who has been brought up in decadent Smarna.

One of the strengths of Ash's writing is her characterization. Even her minor characters feel like real people rather than stock figures. You feel that their words and actions are driven by their various personalities and situations rather than the demands of the story. As for the major characters, they are in most cases complex figures with complex personalities and motivations. Take, for example, Prince Eugene of Tielen. He could so easily have been presented as the stock villain of the novel and Ash makes no secret of his obsessive vision of a Rossiyan Empire reunited under his leadership. However, she forces us to sympathize with him by making him the viewpoint character at various points. Thus, in addition to Eugene the ruthless expansionist we get to see him as Eugene the loving father of sickly, crippled Karila. He is torn between the memory of his dead wife and the political expediency of marriage to Astasia Orlov. Perhaps most surprising is the barely suppressed homoeroticism in his feelings for his young protégé Jaromir Arkhel, the last survivor of a dynasty that once challenged Gavril's father for the throne of Azhkendir.

Given the demonic aspect of Gavril's inheritance, it is no surprise that the supernatural plays an important part in this novel. Ironically Gavril initially denies the existence of magic and the supernatural and only reluctantly comes to acknowledge the true nature of his inheritance. Prince Eugene has no such doubts and makes full use of the skills of his court alchemist to bolster his military advantage (for example, turning condemned criminals into werewolves to be used as a kind of commando force).

Magic of a different kind plays a crucial role in Gavril's struggle with the demon he has inherited. As he settles into his new role as ruler of Azhkendir, he befriends the serving girl Kiukiu. Like him, she is an outsider. Although a faithful servant of the Nagarian line, she is despised because her mother had been seduced by a follower of the hated Arkhel clan. However, and again like Gavril, she has inherited something more from her father. She discovers that she is a guslyar, a `ghost singer' with shamanistic powers - powers that she uses to aid Gavril.

The book is very well written and Ash brings it to as satisfying a conclusion as is possible in the first volume of a trilogy. Naturally, since it is a first volume, she has salted it with unanswered questions to pique the reader's curiosity about what happens next. I am certainly looking forward to the next stage in the larger story.
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on 19 January 2010
This is the first volume of The Tears of Artamon (before Prisoner of the Ironsea Tower, and Children of the Serpent Gate).

Lord of Snow and Shadows tells the story of Gavril, a young painter who is suddenly snatched from his quiet life in sun-bathed Smarna after the father he's never met is murdered, and forcibly taken to the snow-bound kingdom of Azhkendir, where he's expected to avenge and succeed him.

Moreover, he soon learns that his heirloom comes with yet another price: the blood that runs in his family's veins is slowly transforming him into a Drakhaoul, a beast of incredible might but needing to be refuelled with the blood of young innocents. Gavril must absolutely resist it to preserve his soul and not give in to this dreadful craving.

In the meantime, his mother Elysia searches for him, imploring the help of the neighbouring Muscobite aristocracy, only to find herself caught in the middle of a powerplay between people lying in wait of a sign of weakness from the North to attack her son. She'll end up trusting the wrong people, who'll use her to invade Azhkendir.

I was taken in by the story from the very first pages and soon lost myself in the account of these intricate events, trying to see through these complex characters. The book is no light and happy fairy tale, though and some passages are terribly grim. However, Gavril's helplessness and good-heartedness make him very lovable, and I became very fond of Kiukiu, the cook's young niece and other maids' bully target, who'll discover powers of her own and finally befriend the Kastel's other desolate soul... I also enjoyed Sarah Ash's descriptions of winter in Azhkendir, so true to life I could feel the harshness of the cold. I'm eager to go on reading and see how the very tricky situation everyone is entangled in evolves.
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I approached this book knowing absolutely nothing about it, having only received one recommendation some years ago, and thus, had no idea what to expect. Would it be cliché, would it be epic fantasy, or something gritty, perhaps a book about owls? What it was, was very good, and a little bit of all of them.

Within the first fifty pages, the main character, Gavril, has fallen in love with the beautiful noblewoman, Astasia (destined for the Prince of another land), discovered something terrible about his father -- and his legacy to Gavril, and been kidnapped and taken to a strange land by one of his fathers closest friends. The story definitely picks up dramatically in quality after those first fifty pages, but at the same time, the speed at which everything is turned upside in Gavril's life -- before we get attached to him -- means that we don't really feel any sympathy for him as he struggles to cope with his new life and his new-found position. He doesn't struggle for too long, though -- Ash gives just enough time for us to learn, as he learns, about the new setting, the new rules, the new people, and doesn't over-indulge in back-history.

Gavril is now the Drakhaon, and the Azhkendir throne is his, not that he wants it. Not that he has a choice, at all. The blood running through his veins will change him; it gives him powers -- the ability to change into something akin to a dragon, to fly, to send fire from his hands, to kill.

To be honest, I wasn't that keen on the idea of someone turning into a dragon -- presumably shiny and golden, flying around happily in the summer air, perhaps with people on it's back. It seemed very unoriginal. Sarah Ash is darker than that, though, and a better writer. The dragon Gavril turns into is more like a flying nosferatu with fire; something grim and dark and demonic, something that needs blood to survive -- young blood -- and something that possesses Gavril. (Similarities to Dracula, the Dragon, always make my day, but Ash's take was also something different and new). The depiction of the Drakhaon is one of my favourite parts of the book, and Gavril's fight against that aspect of himself -- to remain human as he changed on the outside, developed thick blue nails, a heavyset brow, fierce, hungry eyes -- was really well conceived. To banish the Drakhaon, though, would mean leaving his people defenceless against the outside world, and the armies that approach them...

The characters we saw in the first fifty pages do reappear later on in the novel, and there are quite a few Point of View characters in Lord of Snow and Shadows. Sarah Ash also does good things with the romance between Gavril and Astasia -- while they do think of each other from time to time, in their separate countries, when they do meet again it's not exactly a happy occasion, and Ash does a good job of making you expect things to turn out as they always do, and then doing something completely different. It will be interesting to see what Ash does with this relationship in the rest of the The Tears of Artamon series. There's also a certain ambiguity to the other characters. The "bad guy" cares for his daughter, and yet is quite happy to consign thousands to die; the "good guy" slaughters whole armies in the most horrible fashion.

I can fully understand the need for ruthlessness while writing, the ability to kill of characters (no matter how much the author may want to keep them) that the story no longer needs. I expect there's a perfectly good reason for it, but, to me, it seemed that Ash killed off one of my favourite characters -- a character with a lot of potential -- purely as writerly shorthand.

There are a few flaws in Lord of Snow and Shadows, but they are greatly outbalanced by the number of good things in the book. With Lord of Snow and Shadows, Ash has opened her series with distinct characterisations, a new take on fantasy, and some very interesting twists and turns.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 9 February 2004
The first part of the Tears of Artamon trilogy promises good things for the two succeeding parts. It is a deeply dark novel, with a fascinating story and an intriguing main character. Sarah Ash constructs her characters well and creates a cast with believable, three dimensional personalities. The story is compulsive, the pages turn almost by magic, and personally I can't wait for the next installment.
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on 11 December 2013
I love this trilogy its the reason i'v now always got my nose in a book. Sarah Ash should be alot more known.

fantastic book buy it if you like fantasy ;)
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 3 March 2004
Great potential! Nice to see a different take on the regular formula for fantasy novels. Good introduction to many characters but they were not well developed, realistic characters, (too sketchy - are humans that gullible and weak minded?) Not enough historic detail describing how his fore-fathers became the way they were, why the drakhaoul was the last of its kind, and not enough details on the blood bond to really appreciate the enormity of Gavril's last actions, but quite enjoyable. I assume that the token mage will have more to do in the next book,and hopefully there will be much more character development. Having said that, it was well written and a good read. Looking forward to the next installment.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I haven't come across this author before, but after reading just the blurb i knew that i had to read it, and what a fanatasic read it is.
Sarah Ash brings the reader into a world that is like our own, with men determind to find power through the means of war and conquest. The unhappiness of Muscobar reminds me of the calls for revolution in early 20th Century Russia. However, the old and ancient race,a Drakhaon, all depends on Gavril who only wishes to remove the dragon/serpent from his heart. Full of the enchantments of sorcerers, the songs of the ghost singers and the desire of men clashing and conflicting, an ever moving plot stops the reader thinking ahead, and the story getting stale.
Full of so many twists and turns its a thrilling and intoxicating peek at this beautiful series and i only hope that this brilliant British authoress, Sarah Ash ,writes the next book soon, as i personally cant wait!
For other thrilling fantasy i recommended His Dark Materials triology by Phillip Pullman.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I read the blurb for this book and thought: "What a great idea! I've got to read it."
Well I did read it and was ultimately disappointed. I have two categories of book that I apply to those I buy: Keepers (books I can read over and over and will never let go) and forgetables (read once and give away) This one from Ash is a forgetable.
The ideas were there and sound, but somehow they didn't quite click for me. Gavril Andar's relationship with the Drakhoul wasn't explored enough for me. Ash simply began making Gavril change and do things while making him bemoan his fate and look desperatley for a way out. The fact he was an accomplished painter had no bearing on the story after about the third chapter. He could have been a blacksmith or a bard and it would have made no difference to what happens. Gavril's link to his men wasn't used hardly at all except to say that Gavril tried and failed to contact them when he was in need.
The story came across to me as very light weight, when it could have been epic. All the ideas were there. A world discovering science but still having practitioners of magic, demon creatures, sword wielding soldiers that are also learning to use firearms for the first time... It could have been great, but suffered from "first in a trilogy syndrome" meaning all set up and no real substance. I hope the second book makes up for it.
Buy this if you can't find anything new in fantasy to read, otherwise wait for book 2.
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 3 December 2004
The Lord of Snow & Shadow is in a way very traditional to the genre but at the same time it is not. I will not reveal any of the plot but it includes all the usual ingrediens: a young man,loads of beautiful women (both good and bad), magic and and some impressive political manuvering. The book will newer win any Nobel prise in litterature but the consept and the atmosphere the athour have created are impressive. It is defently not the usal stuff de la Eddings which I have read so many times but this book is more dark, stark and clever. I could not put the book down untill it was finished, youre in for a treat.
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1 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 23 April 2004
Thank you Sarah Ash...Your work has created many emotions inside of me! Ilove the way you give the characters such distinct personalities, I feelask if i've know KiuKiu my whole life...When I read this story, I couldfeel the pain, sadness, and joy that the characters were going through...Ifeel that this is an excellent pieve of literature and could potentiallybecause a classic piece of science-fiction/fantasy.
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