‘Dark Star Burning, Ash Falls White’ by Amélie Wen Zhao – Book Review

A well written conclusion to this fantasy epic

Writing a follow-up to an enticing and exciting fantasy debut is not easy. There are a plethora of other talented writers out there spinning fantastical stories with bigger, badder and more epic stakes making it hard to stand out. Amelie Wen Zhao meanwhile, continues to quietly carve out a unique slice of the fantasy pie with Dark Star Burning, Ash Falls White the hotly anticipated follow-up to last year’s Song Of Silver, Flame Like Night.

Zhao cleverly weaves a prologue and the opening chapters in such a way that if you’ve forgotten the main threads of the first book, you’ll instantly be thrown back into the world like you never left. However, this is also a double-edged sword. If you’ve only just finished reading the first, or know the story well, the first quarter of this book is going to feel very sluggish and laborious. 

With the battle of Skies End over, the fate of the Kingdom hangs in the balance. Zen has chosen to embrace his Demon God, the Black Tortoise, and while his intentions may be good, his actions are anything but. Countless people have died at his hands and the Demon’s influence is only growing.

Meanwhile, Lan is off in the desert with her ragged bang of survivors, with the only hope now being to find the mythical weapon capable of destroying the Demon Gods – the Godslayer.

Naturally, she’s not the only one looking for this and the two other Demon Gods. The Elantian soldiers are hot on their heels and Lan finds herself quickly in over her head as both her and Zen’s journeys bring them to the same city, Shaklahira. This is the former stronghold of the Imperial Court that vanished without a trace when the Elantians invaded. 

After a rather subdued and slow first half, the second act of this book whiplashes into action, with plenty of skirmishes, big battle with Gods, and the fate of the world ultimately decided by Lan and Zen. Will everyone make it out in one piece? Or will there be bitter, difficult sacrifices along the way in order to restore peace?

To give much more away would be a disservice to the story but suffice to say, this one does have a good ending. The story itself is arguably not as strong as the first though, with a lot of time dedicated to planning and trying to formulate a plot. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially after the big battle at the end of the first book, but it does feel a little laborious through a few chapters.

The focus this time shifts back and forth between Zen and Lan in alternate chapters, although Zen arguably has the stronger character arc here he also has the most laborious chapters. As the Black Tortoise’s influence grows, he finds himself wrestling with his purpose and sanity. This does make for a fascinating read, but it also drags on a bit too much at times.

However, that’s not a deal-breaker because the main plotline, and how it weaves the Four Demon Gods together, is ultimately the strongest point of the story. The climax in particular is spectacular and you really get a feel for the scope and scale of this fight – and how the world hangs in the balance.

The prose is good overall, the world fleshed out beautifully and the main story nicely wrapped up. It’s a shame then that it takes so long to get going because there’s actually a solid, enjoyable fantasy thriller in here. If you can get past the first half (which basically serves as a catch-up and set-up of sorts) then Dark Star Burning, Ash Falls White delivers a rip-roaring conclusion to this fantasy epic.

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  • Verdict - 7/10

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