A Sword of Bronze and Ashes

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Pub Date 12 Sep 2023 | Archive Date 19 Sep 2023

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Readers of Shauna Lawless and Thilde Kold Holdt will love this Celtic-inflected adventure by critically acclaimed, grimdark epic fantasy novelist, Anna Smith Spark.

A Sword of Bronze and Ashes combines the fierce beauty of Celtic myth with grimdark battle violence. It's a lyrical, folk horror high fantasy.

Kanda has a good life until shadows from her past return threatening everything she loves. And Kanda, like any parent, has things in her past she does not want her children to know. Red war is coming: pursued by an ancient evil, Kanda must call upon all her strength to protect her family. But how can she keep her children safe, if they want to stand as warriors beside her when the light fades and darkness rises?
Readers of Shauna Lawless and Thilde Kold Holdt will love this Celtic-inflected adventure by critically acclaimed, grimdark epic fantasy novelist, Anna Smith Spark.

A Sword of Bronze and Ashes...

A Note From the Publisher

Anna Smith Spark is a critically acclaimed, multi-award short-listed grimdark epic fantasy novelist. She writes lyrical prose-poetry about war, love, landscapes, and war. Her writing has been described as ‘a masterwork’ by Nightmarish Conjurings, ‘an experience like no other series in fantasy’ by Grimdark Magazine, ‘literary Game of Thrones’ by the Sunday Times, and ‘howls like early Moorcock, converses like the best of Le Guin’ by the Daily Mail.

Anna Smith Spark is a critically acclaimed, multi-award short-listed grimdark epic fantasy novelist. She writes lyrical prose-poetry about war, love, landscapes, and war. Her writing has been...

Advance Praise


“Just magnificent ... Easily the most unique voice in fantasy.” 

– Grimdark Magazine

“Dazzling. Howls like early Moorcock, converses like the best of Le Guin.” – The Daily Mail

“Game of Literary Thrones” – The Sunday Times

“A masterwork of dark fantasy.” – Nightmarish Conjurings

“Stunning ... Epic.” – Starburst Magazine

“Immense depth and breadth ... the best voice in the genre.” – Three Crows Magazine

“'Stunning.” – Publishers Weekly (starred review)


“Just magnificent ... Easily the most unique voice in fantasy.” 

– Grimdark Magazine

“Dazzling. Howls like early Moorcock, converses like the best of Le...

Marketing Plan

FLAME TREE PRESS is the imprint of long-standing independent Flame Tree Publishing, dedicated to full-length original fiction in the horror and suspense, science fiction & fantasy, and crime / mystery / thriller categories. The list brings together fantastic new authors and the more established; the award winners, and exciting, original voices.

Learn more about Flame Tree Press at www.flametreepress.com and connect on social media @FlameTreePress

FLAME TREE PRESS is the imprint of long-standing independent Flame Tree Publishing, dedicated to full-length original fiction in the horror and suspense, science fiction & fantasy, and crime /...

Available Editions

ISBN 9781787588417
PRICE $4.99 (USD)

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Featured Reviews

Anna Smith Spark deserve way more exposition then she gets and she prove yet again with her new novel. Pure fantasy in a beautiful prose. Must read for every fantasy fans!

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This is Anna Smith Spark's fifth novel to date, and as with the previous four, it is an absolutely stunning masterclass in writing fantastic fiction.

Infused with a lot of Celtic imagery and themes, and possibly owing something of its DNA to the works of Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, and Lloyd Alexander, this is a tale that explores the responsibilities of motherhood and the consequences of broken promises and oaths. And for those who are familiar with Anna's previous books, yes it's still got a dark heart to it, even if it is, on the surface, less grim than her earlier works.

The narrative follows Kanda, a woman whose past catches up with her just as she's forged a good life for herself and her family. When that past threatens to destroy her family and her life, Kanda is left with no choice but to take up her sword once more, and fight to hold on to the things she holds precious.

There are a lot of layers to this novel, with Kanda's past gradually being uncovered as she tries to lead her family to safety, as well as a thread throughout the story exploring the bond between daughter and mother, and how that bond can be affected by the child growing up and seeking her independence.

As with all of Anna's writing, this book is full of some of the most lyrically beautiful prose you'll ever lay your eyes on, and there are a few places in this one where the writing reminded me of Michael Moorcock or M. John Harrison at their most psychedelic. Where the Empires of Dust trilogy and A Woman of the Sword tend to be more grounded in the reality of the story, this new novel leans a lot more towards the mythically surreal, switching vertiginously between the real and the unreal on several occasions. And what a gloriously fantastic unreal it is too, with terrifying horse-skulled monsters and deliciously twisted demigods chasing our protagonists around the countryside.

There are a few authors I will go out of my way to recommends to anyone and everyone, and Anna is definitely one of those authors. After all, they don't call her the Queen of Grimdark for nothing.

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A Sword of Bronze and Ashes, authored by Anna Smith Spark, is a peculiar yet captivating piece of literature, crafted with eloquent and artistic language, making it quite challenging to provide a definitive rating.

Personally, I found great pleasure in Kanda’s narrative, both as Kanda herself—a devoted mother of three daughters—and as Ikandera Thygethen, a former warrior and member of the esteemed Six Swords of Roven. The remarkable quality of the lyrical prose shines brightly throughout A Sword of Bronze and Ashes. The storyline itself is peculiar, replete with enigmatic and somber moments that skillfully evoke deep emotions within the reader.

The depiction of Kanda’s family dynamics was exquisitely rendered. Anna Smith Spark skillfully captured the realism in her relationships with her husband, Dellet, and her daughters, Sal, Calian, and Morna. The author beautifully portrayed how, despite occasional arguments and outbursts of anger, the profound love and trust between husband and wife ultimately triumph. Another remarkable aspect that caught my attention was Spark’s authentic portrayal of the complex bond between Kanda and her daughter, Calian. Their interactions as mother and daughter involved intense arguments and moments of cruelty, yet they found solace and support in each other during challenging times, drawing strength from their connection to persevere.

I was particularly enthralled by Spark’s adept depiction of the changes a woman’s body undergoes during childbirth and the gradual process of aging, and how Kanda fearlessly and unapologetically embraced her physical form. Furthermore, witnessing her contentment in leading a simple life as a farmer’s wife, despite her past as a formidable warrior, was truly heartwarming.

Spark’s skillful narrative technique of alternating between the present and Kanda’s past added a compelling layer to the story, infusing it with suspense and intrigue. The seamless transitions between timelines provided a deeper understanding of the characters and their motivations, enriching the overall reading experience.

While A Sword of Bronze and Ashes possessed many commendable aspects, there were moments when I found the pacing to be excessively slow, despite numerous events occurring on the surface. Although the story delved into intriguing elements like Hall Roven, The Lord and Lady Roven, and the Six Swords, I couldn’t shake the feeling that their contributions to the overall plot were not sufficiently impactful. Additionally, I encountered instances where the dialogues seemed repetitive, hindering the progression of the narrative. The magic system, too, remained elusive to my understanding, leaving me with unanswered questions about its mechanics and rules.

In summary, A Sword of Bronze and Ashes offers a poignant exploration of a mother’s unwavering dedication to safeguarding her children. Despite occasional moments of tedium, I wholeheartedly recommend this novel to readers seeking a departure from conventional grimdark narratives. Its distinctive qualities and captivating portrayal of maternal love make it a worthwhile and refreshing read.

My sincere thanks to Netgalley, Flame Tree Press and Anna Smith Spark for providing me this advance reader copy of A Sword of Bronze and Ashes.

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A Sword of Bronze and Ashes is the latest novel from the pen of Anna Smith Spark. Its cover, courtesy of Flame Tree Press defines the book perfectly. It is ‘lyrical, poetic folk horror’.
Labelled the Queen of Grimdark for good reason, this story is dark fantasy at its best. It is bloody and filled with graphic violence. Battles galore. The author shows her amazing understanding of swordplay throughout. But this is more than just another tale of gory battles. At its heart, this is a story about family.
The story opens in a bucolic idyll. The description captures the beauty of farmland with flower-filled meadows and lowing cows. The prose is beautiful, evocative and genuinely poetic. It makes you want to read it out loud. Obviously, this utopian land is going to be subject to darkness and evil. Here, too, language does so much to counterpoint the beauty. The characters that will form the basis of evil are chilling, foul things. Their actions revolt us. Even the touch of anything they’ve despoiled creates lingering, festering disease.
The horror, in some respects, comes from the protagonist’s daughters seeing all this. It’s the impact on these young girls that amplifies the horror. It resonates with you, if you have children of your own. What would you do to protect your family from these experiences?
There are so many ancient tales that do the same thing. Anna Smith Spark mines folklore to present us with a story that gives a tip of the hat to such tales. At the same time, presenting us with a modern take where women have the strength, the resilience and stamina to stand against this evil. Best of all, Kanda, our protagonist, brandishes her sword outside the traditional female tropes. She is a mother first and last. Yes, she has been a warrior but that doesn’t define her. Her maternal drive does.
It's this element that modernises the kind of stories we might expect from medieval literature. There’s more than a touch of Frigg about Kanda. Odin’s wife in Norse tales is also the goddess of motherhood yet a warrior too. There was horror in a lot of Nordic tales, such as the Draugr, animated corpses that are similar to the creatures in this story. My love of Norse and Celtic folk tales was well served by this book.
Let me finish by giving you a taste of the prose. It’s unique quality makes this book stand out. ‘A fine morning, damp and fresh and clean with the sky new-made pale, after long days of bitter heat. The wound of the sun’s rising fast-faded, the stars fled even in the farthest west. Wind stirs the aspen leaves and they sing and shiver; the cobwebs soread like hair, rain-wet and jewel-bedecked.’
Thanks to @NetGalley and @FlameTreesPress for the ARC of this novel.

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Smith Spark has well earned her reputation as a leading writer of Grimdark and dark fantasy. Her descriptions are never gratuitous but the dark elements balance against ominously peaceful beauty. She realy gets the genre in a way other writers who emerged at the same time (cough R F Kuang cough) do not. This was beautiful and horrific with real notes of horror. I enjoyed it immensely.

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It is not often I am surprised nowadays and this book whilst a good read was not surprising, I have read other books by this author and they either hit or miss with me and this falls somewhere in between, what I am surprised by is that what should be a fairly straightforward review of a book is becoming an essay competition between semi professional reviewers, seriously people there is no need for a review that is longer than the first chapter!

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Anna Smith Spark is an author whose prose is much talked about and admired. And while I agree that yes her prose is arguably unmatched, I think what sometimes gets lost in all of this is how incredibly brilliant she is at crafting such compelling stories that have the ability to completely shake the reader with their emotional impact. Another area where Spark excels in my opinion is her exquisite writing of characters. You will fall in love with these people and also have your heart brutally crushed by them. Hey, they don't call her Queen of Grimdark for nothing!

Spark sets the mood right from the jump in A SWORD OF BRONZE AND ASHES and we are introduced to Kanda and her family in an ominous opening scene where they are seemingly being stalked by someone(s) or someTHING(s). Who or what it is that is hunting them remains hidden in the woods around their home but you can tell they are getting very close. Kanda flees with her family rather than be sitting ducks and says that they must travel to a nearby mountain to retrieve a magical weapon that is the only thing that can slay those in pursuit. Her family has no clue that Kanda was once the most powerful member of The Six, warriors and protectors of Roven who have been fighting this same evil for what seems like forever. She has kept it a secret from her children and husband for many years but it seems her old life has found her again and nothing short of facing it head on will return them to their once peaceful life.

And that is the awesome premise that begins this wonderful fantasy tale that is heavily based in ancient folklore and brimming with horrific elements throughout. A SWORD OF BRONZE AND ASHES is really a satisfying read that has so many refreshing aspects to it. The big one for me being the main character Kanda and how she is portrayed. So many times we see "heroes" in fantasy who are chiseled physical perfection, always seem to make the right decisions, fearless in their approach, and unwaveringly embracing of their destiny. Here though, Anna Smith Spark has woven from her mind one of the greatest heroes of all. And it's because Kanda has very few of these tropey hero traits that we typically see. She herself readily admits that she's quite a bit grayer now than in her previous glory days, maybe slightly flabbier as well, she's more focused on being a mother (and potentially a grandmother), and she has long since traded in her magical and majestic sword for a life consisting of living contentedly on a small farm with her husband and children. At the same time, that blazing fire still resides in Kanda and when need be we see it emerge as she fights to protect something even more special and dear to her than simply the walls of a kingdom.

I really liked how the chapters in this book alternated between the present and Kanda's past history as one of The Six. I thought it really gave an essential backstory to the things leading up to the events as they were in the hauntingly creepy opening scene. As the story plays out it becomes more and more clear what the relationship between the hunter and hunted truly are. Just masterful in its execution and this is another reason why Anna Smith Spark is one of the best at what she does. There's a disturbing underlying mystery that we just know is going to blow our minds when it is finally revealed. But along the way Spark is going to make us sweat as she strengthens our connection to the main characters through deeply personal dialogue so that we gradually begin to fear greatly for them and pray frantically that they make it out unscathed.

A SWORD OF BRONZE AND ASHES is both a heart wrenching and mesmerizing story that carried me through so many conflicting emotions throughout. There were times when I felt like I just couldn't continue reading it because I loved these characters so much and damn do they get put through a ton of heavy stuff. But much like Robin Hobb's books they are just way too good not to continue on and find out how it all shakes out. Ultimately this is a book that will challenge many preconceptions with regard to what a hero should look and behave like, and that is a very good thing. I'm delighted to say that Anna Smith Spark has done it yet again with this cracking read and I hope there are many more stories to come in this multi-layered and captivating world.

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