Shadows of Asphodel #1
Source: From author for review
THE STORY (from Goodreads)
When Ardis discovers a man bleeding to death on the battlefield, she knows she has to walk away.
1913. In her work as a mercenary for Austria-Hungary, Ardis has killed many men without hesitation. One more man shouldn’t matter, even if he manages to be a charming bastard while he stands dying in the snow.
But when he raises the dead to fight for him, she realizes she must save his life.
If a necromancer like Wendel dies, he will return as a monster—or so the rumors say. Ardis decides to play it safe and rescues him. What she doesn’t expect is Wendel falling to one knee and swearing fealty. Ardis never asked for the undying loyalty of a necromancer, but it’s too late now.
Ardis and Wendel forge an uneasy alliance underscored with sexual tension. Together, they confront rebels, assassins, and a conspiracy involving a military secret: robotically-enhanced soldiers for a world on the brink of war. But as Ardis starts to fall for Wendel, she realizes the scars from his past run more deeply than she ever imagined. Can Ardis stop Wendel before his thirst for revenge destroys him and everyone else around him?
Shadows of Asphodel gives us an intriguing story full of magic and gadgets with two protagonists who are beacons of light in a world hovering on the precipice of all-out war. While both Ardis and Wendel are highlights though, the rest of the story causes us a bit of trouble, mainly due to the fact that we are provided with absolutely no framework for the world itself. We know war is imminent and there are “rebels” fighting against those to whom Ardis swears allegiance, but we don’t really know who either side is or why exactly they’re at odds, leaving us feeling like tiny boats torn from our moorings and left to drift with no hope of rescue.
Ardis is a woman who can more than take care of herself, wielding a sword with lethal skill and earning her keep by the blade. She’s hesitant with Wendel initially, put off by his necromancy but also more willing to give him a chance than anyone else in his life, making her someone we can easily support for the compassion she shows him. Like the world-building though, we’re left with lots of questions with regard to necromancy and the reasons it’s so despised and loathed by everyone. There appears to be no reason for the hatred Wendel is subjected to other than the obvious fact that he raises the dead, but Ardis herself is a mercenary receiving payment for taking lives, so we can’t help but shake our heads and wonder why the blood on Wendel’s hands seems to be so much heavier in terms of sin than the blood on Ardis’s own.
Wendel, for his part, is a charmer, always quick with a smile or quip and shockingly positive despite the utter disgust with which others look upon him when they learn what he is, and we find ourselves feeling emotionally protective of him throughout. Though we may thoroughly enjoy both him and Ardis, we don’t come to know either of them all that well, with Wendel in particular being more of a mystery. We know he was disowned by his wealthy family and picked up by the Order of the Asphodel–and there’s a brief scene with his brother and sister toward the end–but ultimately that familial line is cast out into the water and then never reeled back in to see if there’s meat on the hook.
Overall, Shadows of Asphodel is a book that just feels a touch unfinished, various threads woven into the story that end up going nowhere, and we’re left with a lot of whys and whats haunting our thoughts. Why is the Order of Asphodel so desperate for Wendel to begin with? What is their end game? Despite those questions and some of the fairly large holes in the world-building, our time with Wendel and Ardis is enjoyable, the two of them a couple that makes us smile as they try to move past their initial shared hesitancy and into something emotionally and physically intimate.
*Note: At the time of this review, I couldn't find any information on whether or not this would be a series. Since then I've learned there will be a sequel, so the unfinished aspect makes a bit more sense:)
This book was sent to me by the publisher free of charge for the purpose of a review.
I received no other compensation and the above is my honest opinion.