Monday, September 21, 2015

An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet

Leah Bobet's second novel, An Inheritance of Ashes, is a multitude of stories woven into one. It is a tale of two sisters struggling to keep the family farm. It's an exploration of how to build a courtship to be what it needs to be instead of what is expected. It's an epic fantasy novel that never leaves home. It's a discussion of war, its costs, and its aftermath. It's a blueprint for healing.

Hallie Hoffman, 16, is the younger of the Hoffman sisters. She and Marthe have been managing Roadstead Farm on their own since their father died. Historically speaking the farm has always gone to the older sibling, and Hallie lives with the memory of the night her father drove her uncle off. She fears if she isn't perfect, if she doesn't hold up her end, the farm will not only fail—she will be cast out by Marthe.

After Marthe married Thom, he and Hallie managed to work the fields and tend the goats together. But Thom was taken south to fight in the war against the Wicked God months ago. A war that ended victorious, but the men who fought it are haunted and broken. Tyler Blakely returned with a twisted leg and his eyes blasted from having looked upon the Wicked God. Thom has not yet returned. Marthe is pregnant with his unborn child, and the farm is failing. So Hallie hires on a veteran named Huron for the winter. Huron is quiet, starved for any kindness, and harbouring secrets and secret wounds of his own.

Then the spider-bird—one of the Twisted Things—appears on Hallie's windowsill one morning, and she knows the war with the Wicked God may have been won... but it's not over.

I can't be impartial about this novel, because I've read three times in various stages and it reduced me to tears each time. Because the characters in it are trying so hard to be better. To learn how to shoulder and share enormous responsibilities. To heal from wounds that go heart-deep.

An Inheritance of Ashes is one of those quiet books that tell vast stories, full of both farm chores and strange monsters. It's weird, wonderful, complex. I'd recommend it to readers of David Eddings or The Lord of The Rings, as they'll recognize the trope set that Bobet is pushing against. Instead of a young farm boy heading off to win the great war against the evil god/lord/demon, here is a young farmgirl who just wants to save her home.

If you're unfamiliar with epic fantasy, and more familiar with YA then I'd say An Inheritance of Ashes is for readers of Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races. While An Inheritance of Ashes has no horses, they are both novels tightly contained, intimate yet overflowing with emotion. Struggling with rural life and complicated family situations. Understanding that something like getting from one November to the next is no more simple than getting the crops in and the barely malted.

Much like The Scorpio Races, you can read An Inheritance of Ashes along the top two layers and be satisfied with it, but you can also read three, four, five layers down and be amazed. This and Erin Bow's The Scorpion Rules are two of the most accomplished books I've read this year, and if you love one of them then you'll also love the other. An Inheritance of Ashes defies genres with the same fierce spirit its narrator uses to defy defeat.

It's also a very empathetic story. It manages to be distinctly the voice and viewpoint of this particular young woman, while allowing a reader to parse how none of the characters are strictly good or bad. It's a complicated, messy morality—just like our world. Hallie and Marthe grew up hard, and much of the story is about Hallie learning how to apply her hardness in ways that are forward-moving. How to see the world the way people who aren't her do, and learn that she and her sister don't have to be be their uncle and father. It's an empowering theme for readers who need it to hear that doing the hard emotional work will be worth it.

The book extrapolates a future version of our world, set after a never-defined catastrophe has rendered recognizable technology useless. People farm and barter and live in smaller-sized communities, because that's what sustainable life now looks like. (While a state is never explicitly named, the ruins of nearby Windstown are meant to be the former city of Detroit, Michigan.) As a result the world of An Inheritance of Ashes is populated by all of the races and religions and cultures that exist in our own. It's a book where a stable, loving marriage exists between two men. Where the Huang butchers come to help with the goats in the fall. Where a group of tinkers and scientists forms their own found-family/compound on the edges of town.

It's also a world haunted by spider-birds and fox-lizards, where a Wicked God made of sand and despair and burning wind might swallow a town whole. Where an wayward army searches for their missing hero, who slew that Wicked God. It's a little bit about the stories we tell ourselves to get through the night. It's more about the magic that ordinary people can do when they come together, when they choose to try. It's a very kind book, and a very brave book—and it does it all without ever having to leave the Shire.

An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet is available from Scholastic Canada at your local bookstore, and Kobo. (You can also get it on Amazon.)

No comments: