Book Review: To Ash and Dust by H.L. Walsh

Spoiler Alert

While every effort has been made to avoid spoilers in this post, anyone who has not read To Ash and Dust by H.L. Walsh is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

The war has begun anew. The Demon Army marches on Newaught. Their newly constructed canons catching the city unawares. With the first shot destroying a large portion of the walls, the leaders surrender without a fight. An order is issued to turn Malach and his friends over and they are forced to flee the city. Finding other refugees along the way, they must shepherd them toward the safety of the Angel Army, however, their journey might be longer than they anticipate. During their flight, Malach’s mother has been found. She is being held in a prison deep in Demon Territory. They must deliver the refugees of Newaught to safety before gathering their strength and a recuse party. Can they make it to her in time? Or will she perish before they can reach her?

Some of you may recall that I interviewed author H.L. Walsh [2] after the release of his debut novel, From Men and Angels; the first exciting instalment in the ‘Deliverance’ trilogy of high fantasy novels in which humans live and fight alongside corporeal angels and demons. While I’m not taking on solicitated book reviews or author interviews at the moment so I can focus on completing Project E, I have been eager to find out what happens next for Malach, Amara and the other characters in the ‘Deliverance’ trilogy, and so I jumped at the chance to read an ARC copy of the second book, To Ash and Dust, in exchange for an honest review.

Picking up where the previous book left off with the war between the Angels and Demons begun anew, this story begins with the revelation that Demons have developed a new weapon in their war against the Angels: explosives. Meanwhile Malach (the protagonist) is resolved to rescue his mother, who he previously learned is being held captive in the heart of Demon territory, while simultaneously he comes to grips with his blossoming relationship with Amara.

As with the first book, the world-building is what really makes this book stand out for me. With the encroachment of the Demon army into Angel territory and Malach’s own quest into Demon territory to find his mother, we finally get a better look at the dark and dangerous parts of Malach’s fantasy world, where giant spiders trap humans instead of flies and no one can be trusted. This expands nicely upon the world-building in the previous book which was set mostly in the ‘nicer’ parts of Walsh’s fantasy world.

Plot-wise, there’s quite a few strands running through this, woven together pretty well for the most part. The main thing is Malach’s quest to find and liberate his mother, which he undertakes with all due diligence alongside a romantic subplot between himself and Amara. They finally get together as a couple, and after a few blissful chapters where they dream of making a home together after the war, things quickly grow difficult for the couple as some of their old differences resurface and Amara is stalked by a demon who has his own hold over the former thief. Once again, Amara definitely wins the prize for the best character development as she is pulled in different directions by her feelings for Malach and the manipulations of a demon who threatens her father.

While Malach is clearly the protagonist of this story, there is quite a large number of other characters (including swords) in this story, and the story might have been helped along if some of these had been developed a little more. Maybe it’s just me, but I often found myself losing track of who was who (or even who was a human and who was angel), where they all were and what they were all trying to do.

If I had to make just one other criticism (without wanting to give too much away), it would be that the ending felt a little abrupt. I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but suffice to say the novel began to climax well with the apparent treachery of one of Malach’s closest allies, followed by a nice big exciting final battle (a contractual obligation in fantasy of this type) then suddenly the book’s finished, still leaving a few questions unresolved (though there’s still another book to go!).

All in all, a good read and a strong sequel (and you know how I feel about those!). Great world building, a meaty plot and plenty of excitement with just enough humour to offset the darker elements. If you like stories where a small band of heroes go on dangerous quests through vibrant fantasy worlds to overcome evil with plenty of epic fight scenes and terrifying villains, this is one is well worth a read.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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