#SPFBO Review : We Men of Ash and Shadow (The Vanguard Chronicles #1) by H.L.Tinsley 

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Stage 2 of the  SPFBO competition is now well underway and the Critiquing Chemist and I have been reading the finalists.  Today we post our first review and I think it’s safe to say that the reviews will now start to appear with almost indecent haste.  The first book we will be reviewing is We Men of Ash and Shadow (The Vanguard Chronicles #1) by H.L.Tinsley.  Don’t forget to stop over to the Critiquing Chemist to check out their review.

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We Men of Ash and Shadows is a book that I have mixed feelings for.  I think it’s an impressive debut, I loved the dialogue, I think Tinsley creates a grim world indeed with harsh contrasts between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and there’s an alternate French feel to it with the revolutionary plots.  Of course there is a flip side to that but I’ll get to that shortly.  Firstly a little more about the book.

Our central character is a former soldier turned mercenary named John Vanguard. Vanguard now works for a former acquaintance (Sanquain) who now controls the seedy underbelly of the city.  The story takes a little while to give you a feel for Vanguard, he’s a man haunted by his past who lives with constant guilt that plagues him so badly that he believes he should live a life of suffering.  The work he undertakes is that of an assassin carrying out authorized hits only on those that have stepped outside the law of the criminal underworld in which they live.  Strangely enough Vanguard has earned himself a reputation as a vigilante and the people of D’Orsee have a sort of quiet respect for the work he undertakes.  Yes, he’s a morally gray character but he isn’t without feeling. 

In contrast to Vanguard we have a character called Tarryn Leersac whose family have fallen on hard times.  Once part of the upper echelons of society they no longer have money and their home is falling into ruin.  Leersac looks after his mother who is suffering from what I took to be a form of dementia (but that could be wrong).  He’s a deeply resentful man with a very bad temper (to say the least).  Vanguard and Leersac’s paths eventually cross and for a while there is a mentor/apprentice style relationship in place that I enjoyed and would have liked to see expanded a little more).  This is where we come to the fantasy elements of the story and the reason why both characters are so good at quietly murdering unaware suspects.  They are both able to pass unseen, I’m not talking about totally disappearing like the Invisible Man, more a knack of sorts that allows them to almost blend in and makes people glance over them if you will.

There are a number of other characters that help to populate the story and in fact in typical fashion I found myself liking some of the supporting cast more than the main characters.  I find that this is often the case and I want more expansion from the characters surrounding the central pov – but this is obviously a very personal thing.  As it is the two central characters eventually go in very opposite directions but I won’t elaborate and spoil things for other readers.

The plot starts off with Vanguard looking into the disappearance of a couple of guards and from there gathers into a story of revolution with different forces pulling and pushing in different directions.

The setting has an alternate history feel to it.  This is gaslamp fantasy so it has a late Edwardian or Victorian feel to it.  For me there was also a decidedly French feel to the place although that could just be me latching onto the French revolution and ascribing similarities even though that’s a different period.

In terms of criticisms (or the flip side of the coin that I mentioned above).  Well, this is a relatively short book, which I don’t have a problem with except that in some ways it felt like I didn’t get enough time with everyone.  I felt like Leersac’s issues spiraled very quickly and the ending, although I admit it was entertaining, felt a little rushed.  There’s a lot of head hopping which at first I found a little irritating, but, to be fair, I did become accustomed to it very quickly.  I have to admit that I felt a little disappointed with some of the deaths – hear me out – this is grimdark and so I expect a lot of characters to meet a grisly end, but there was some foreshadowing here and in a way it would have been more of a surprise if some of those built up expectations had been flipped on their head.  This is also quite low fantasy and there’s very little knowledge or explanation of what’s actually happening or why which  in some ways  gave the book almost the feeling of a prequel. I would love to know more about this going unseen ability and if there are others with similar or even slightly different abilities in this world and hopefully this will be explored in further novels.

Overall, I found this an easy read.  This is certainly an author that I would keep an eye on and apart from perhaps a little over ambition which quite often happens with a debut novel I think this was a good start to the series.

I would rate this 6 out of 10 or 3 of 5 for Goodreads.

My thanks to the author for a review copy.  The above is my own opinion.

The Critiquing Chemist rated this 6.5 therefore our average rating is 6.5 out of 10

2 Responses to “#SPFBO Review : We Men of Ash and Shadow (The Vanguard Chronicles #1) by H.L.Tinsley ”

  1. Tammy

    Gaslamp stories always appeal to me, for some reason. This sounds like it was enjoyable even if it didn’t blow you away😁

  2. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    This sounds like an interesting debut, even though it does suffer from some narrative “hiccups” that are common to beginning authors. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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