A Sword of Bronze and Ashes by Anna Smith Spark
With thanks to the publisher, Flame Tree Press, for providing an ARC of this book through NetGalley.
This is Anna Smith Spark’s fifth novel to date, and as with the previous four, it is an absolutely stunning masterclass in writing fantastic fiction.
Infused with a lot of Celtic imagery and themes, and possibly owing something of its DNA to the works of Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, and Lloyd Alexander, this is a tale that explores the responsibilities of motherhood and the consequences of broken promises and oaths. And for those who are familiar with Anna’s previous books, yes it’s still got a dark heart to it, even if it is, on the surface, less grim than her earlier works.
The narrative follows Kanda, a woman whose past catches up with her just as she’s forged a good life for herself and her family. When that past threatens to destroy her family and her life, Kanda is left with no choice but to take up her sword once more, and fight to hold on to the things she holds precious.
There are a lot of layers to this novel, with Kanda’s past gradually being uncovered as she tries to lead her family to safety, as well as a thread throughout the story exploring the bond between daughter and mother, and how that bond can be affected by the child growing up and seeking her independence.
As with all of Anna’s writing, this book is full of some of the most lyrically beautiful prose you’ll ever lay your eyes on, and there are a few places in this one where the writing reminded me of Michael Moorcock or M. John Harrison at their most psychedelic. Where the Empires of Dust trilogy and A Woman of the Sword tend to be more grounded in the reality of the story, this new novel leans a lot more towards the mythically surreal, switching vertiginously between the real and the unreal on several occasions. And what a gloriously fantastic unreal it is too, with terrifying horse-skulled monsters and deliciously twisted demigods chasing our protagonists around the countryside.
There are a few authors I will go out of my way to recommends to anyone and everyone, and Anna is definitely one of those authors. After all, they don’t call her the Queen of Grimdark for nothing.