Thursday, July 22, 2010

Book Review: Ashes of Our Joy

Ashes of Our Joy is the second book in The Epic of Karolan series, by Ari Heinze. (I reviewed the first book, Bright against the Storm, here.)

 Ashes of Our Joy tells the gripping story of the war for which Karolan was preparing in Bright against the Storm. In my review of the first book, I said:

 “I can only think of this book as a celebration: a celebration of justice, loyalty, faithfulness, beauty, courage, selflessness, and love-- both God's love and the love that because of Him is shown forth among His people.”

 In Ashes of our Joy, all that is celebrated in Bright against the Storm comes under attack. The main characters find themselves betrayed by treachery and pitted in a desperate battle for all that they have ever held dear.

 Several themes emerge.

 One is choices. Life is always full of choices, but in times of great trial, those choices become more important and more difficult. Will the young, newly-wed miner escape with his beloved so that their love might blossom in safety instead of staying to fight for his country and countrymen? Will the old woman remain by her husband’s side, even though it means death? Will the quiet shepherd who abhors violence go to war to protect the peace that he loves so dearly?

 Another is the complexity and humanity of every person. The war is not recorded in terms of the villainous invaders versus the righteous defenders. We see individuals on both sides, in all their humanity. Even the most wicked men experience moments of regret, and even the most righteous men experience moments of doubt or weakness.

 Another theme: the greatest battles are not always fought with outside enemies. Sometimes the greatest battles are those fought against doubt, despair, or fear. These battles are not always won by those who seem the strongest. A man who is not the greatest warrior may still have great strength.

 Lastly, Ashes of Our Joy explores what happens when, despite a person’s greatest efforts, his world, with all its hopes, dreams, and joys, comes crashing down around him. What then?

 Bright against the Storm displayed the contrast between the hope of the believer and the hopelessness of the unbeliever to a degree, but that contrast is even starker in Ashes of Our Joy. When all that a believer has worked for seems to have been in vain, he can still trust that God has a plan, and that He can bring good out of even the most horrible circumstances. Knowing that, the believer will seek to do what he can to serve God and to bring healing to the world around him. Even if all he can do is pray, he will do that. Though despair may overtake him at times, it has no lasting power over his heart and soul.

 The unbeliever has none of this assurance. What is lost to him, is lost forever. There is no hope of good coming from it. There is no trust in the hand of God governing events. The only possible responses are despair, bitterness, or revenge.

 Ashes of Our Joy combines excellent storytelling, compelling characters, suspenseful action, and honest insight to make a story that is both enjoyable and thought-provoking.

To learn more, or purchase the books, see Ari Heinze's website:


  1. Anna,
    Thank you for reviewing this book. I had not heard of this book series before. It sounds like a good series.

  2. Hi Mom! Thanks for the hint:)

    This sounds like a GREAT series that I will have to add my reading list. :) There are so many things that stick out to me from what you wrote, it sounds very promising. However, I did have one question about the series. You mentioned in your review of the first book, that it was fantasy, but so far from your description it all sounds very believable, like it might could happen in some distant country. So I would really like to hear more about it. I've read many fantasy books over the years and have found them very frustrating and disappointing. I will see some good things in a series but it stops there. I find fantasy a very intriguing but problematic genre and have yet to read a "good" fantasy. Like you mentioned in your first review Christian fantasy authors have to figure out what to do with God in their make-believe world and this is what I find most perplexing in fantasy. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject and how this plays out in the Karolan series.

  3. You're welcome, Mrs. Shiflet!


    The reason that I consider this series fantasy in spite of the lack of mythical creatures, magic, etc. is that it takes place in a make-believe place and time, unlike historical fiction for example, which inserts fictional characters into a real place and time. These countries never existed; these wars never happened, and they're not even based on any historical wars.

    The story of the arrival of Christianity in Karolan is that a small group of travellers came to Karolan several generations before the events that take place in the series. They tell the story of Jesus, and the faith eventually spreads through the land. The Bible is known as the Book of the Travellers.

    It reminds me of how the faith was brought to Ireland during the Middle Ages. So, I could imagine the world of Karolan being somewhere at the edges of the known world at the same time, mostly isolated from other countries, but occasionally having contact. It is very believable.

    But of course, it didn't really exist. One of the main attractions to me as a writer about fantasy is the ability to write a story without being constrained by historical facts. If I were writing historical fiction, I would want it to be accurate, which means my story would be limited by the actual places, culture, and major events of whatever setting I'm using. So, fantasy is free from using actual, historical settings. Most fantasy authors try to make it free from spiritual truth as well, but it doesn't have to be that way.

    The complicating factor is that Christianity is inescapeably historical. Unlike some world religions, it cannot be distilled to a merely spiritual element without being lost. Thus, the need for there to be the real world "out there" somewhere from which the Good News is brought to Karolan.

    The biggest aspect of the faith which is really not reflected in the series is church life.

    I have read (and enjoyed) a handful of fantasy books over the years, and this series, while not perfect, rings much truer for me as a Christian than any others I've read.

    The author discusses some of these issues on his website, so you might want to browse what he has there if you're really interested in the series.

    I can't guarantee that you'll like the books, Emily, but I'm pretty sure you'll at least find them interesting and thought-provoking. If you read them, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts-- maybe a book review on the Shiflet blog? :)

    Love, Anna

  4. Anna! Thanks so much for reviewing this book! I have been waiting eagerly for the day the next book in the series would be released! I am so glad to know it has arrived. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. I always enjoy hearing your perspective on...everything you write about!

  5. You're welcome, Katrina!

    It was good to have a chance to visit the other day... our best wishes as you head off this weekend!