Review & Discussion: Ash-Slave by Joanne Renaud

Publisher: Re-released by author. Previously published by Dark Valentine Magazine.
Where did we get the book from: Review copy from author.
Release date: Out now

Friends, there are some men who are convinced that the King of Kings is the most powerful man under heaven. Truly, those who have such faith in the Great King are blessed—yet, great Ahura Mazda forgive me, I have reason to think otherwise. What is a king, even the mightiest king in the world, when he is in love? Come and listen to my tale of the ash-slave who commanded the King himself.”

Nazchehr– called the ash-slave by her unloving family– has plans for revenge when she dances at the palace of the Great King. But the goddess Inanna has even bigger plans in store for Nazchehr and the King.

Enter a world of marble palaces, capricious kings and powerful gods in this retelling of the classic Cinderella story set in ancient Persia.

*blurb taken from Goodreads*

Lou: When Joanne emailed us to ask for a review of Ash-Slave, I agreed because I wanted to try something different that’s not the norm of the normal romance conventions, and the idea of an Ancient Cinderella type story set in Persia just sounded too awesome to pass up. This review is also going to be a discussion of sorts between myself and E, because whilst I really enjoyed the writing and setting, I had problems with the emotional connections of the characters because of the time period it was set in. Some of the actions that the characters do, we can’t morally accept in this day and age. So I feel torn with this book. The setting and descriptions were great and quite evocative, and it was told as if it was a fairy-tale so there was a disconnect of sorts. Nazchehr experiences grief, rage, sadness and joy and it was quite a mixture, but the characters are quite blood thirsty, and this is where I have a problem because I need the emotive connections in my book and I couldn’t engage with them on an emotional level. Yet on the other hand, the characters were being true to themselves in ancient times, so do I have a reason to complain about what they did?

E: I grew up reading all the myths, legends, fables, and fairytales from any culture I could find so I had fond memories of my childhood as I read Ash-Slave. I think it is because of my past reading history that I didn’t have an issue with the characters’ motivations. I have found that compared to most other countries, in the US the older stories have been softened and sweetened, probably due in part to the influence of Disney. I was talking to a co-worker the other day and she mentioned that in Germany, most of the old stories were certainly meant as teaching lessons/warnings to children with the end result being death if they didn’t heed the warning. In the US we don’t have any of those… We have had authors who take a fairytale and expand it giving you that connection with the characters and we have authors who translate and slightly or seriously change the events in a fairytale. I tend to have very different expectations for those two types.

Lou: I think you make a great point, and I’m guilty as charged for wanting modern sensibilities in a time period where it wasn’t the norm back then. And I think I’m guilty with it in Ash-Slave, yet still knowing, I wanted more from the characters on an emotional level. The way in which the Gods, the Priestess, and The King were played out really captured the imagination, yet I was put off by the heroine’s actions, and her feelings of revenge. And I’m thinking to myself, is it fair to lower the grade of my review for this book because of my sensibilities. Yet I also think that despite the setting, I feel that I need the characters to have depth for me to be able to engage with them. And this is where I’m torn. I think Joanne has a real talent for writing, and I enjoyed her skills, yet I didn’t enjoy the characters.

E: I agree that Joanne has a lovely way of handing words. Despite the short length she managed to evoke some extremely vivid images. I can see where you were torn Lou because with that short length it is extremely difficult to build a connection with the characters. It can be even more challenging if you aren’t familiar with the culture or what they considered acceptable because you don’t have a frame of reference. I think if this is read as a translation of a familiar fairytale and not with the belief that it will suck you in to the characters like a Disney version it is much more enjoyable.

Lou: And I hold my hands up to not knowing the culture and the myth that Joanne Renaud invoked in Ash-Slave, and in a way, it shows just how modernised I am in my reading choices when it comes to certain genres. For example, historical romances. I want the protagonists to act and behave like we do in this day and age, and they do because if they didn’t, I very much doubt publishers would be able to sell them. And I do have to commend the author in Ash-Slave for not going down that route, and sticking to the culture and behaviour of that time period — even if I couldn’t connect or engage with it.

E: Sometimes I do expect the characters to act/think in a way that is familiar to me or at least one that makes sense in the context of the author’s world-building. Ash-Slave didn’t have the word-count to provide that background, yet because I read it more from an intellectual compare/contrast point of view rather then expecting an escape it worked for me. I give Ash-Slave a B+ (I wanted to see some of the other people get their comeuppance).

Lou: I do agree that the shortness of Ash-Slave limited the development of the world-building, and because of that, I think because the characters didn’t have enough page time, I struggled more with their development. I give Ash-Slave a C because the descriptive skills were really good, but I struggled on an emotional level.

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5 thoughts on “Review & Discussion: Ash-Slave by Joanne Renaud”

  1. Nice to see this story reviewed. I think you guys raised some good and interesting points about this tale, and it’s nice to see people discuss it with such energy. 🙂

  2. @Laura Thanks. We had a lot of fun discussing it! What I really liked was how we started with such different points of view :).

  3. An interesting discussion but I think one major point is missed. This is a short story and as such, doesn’t spend pages on character development as much as a novel or even novella. Within the confines of the structure of short story, I think the author did an excellent job of evoking the cruelty historically true to the period. It was “too bloodthirsty”? Have you ever read the original version of Cinderella where each step-sister chops off either their toes or their heel to fit into the slipper, leaving a thick trail of blood behind them as each rides off with the prince?
    Expanding one’s horizons is a good thing. Remember, too much sweetness can give you diabetes.

  4. @Jude Johnson: Thanks for stopping by. I said I admired that Joanna stuck to the time period and didn’t modernize it, but even in a short story — and that goes for any short story and novella — the characters have to have some sort of depth to them and not just their actions. As reader, I know that I want to be able to engage with characters to understand their motives and behaviour.

    I also stated that I was unaware of the original tale, and took that into consideration. I don’t feel guilty about my grade because it’s what MY opinion is of the book regarding the emotional level of the characters.

    As for your last line — despite it’s patronizing tone — I don’t feel guilty that I want sweetness in my books. And if by sweetness that includes characters not chopping off each other’s body parts, I’m perfectly fine with that.

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