An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet

an-inheritance-of-ashes“The strange war down south—with its rumors of gods and monsters—is over. And while sixteen-year-old Hallie and her sister wait to see who will return from the distant battlefield, they struggle to maintain their family farm.

When Hallie hires a veteran to help them, the war comes home in ways no one could have imagined, and soon Hallie is taking dangerous risks—and keeping desperate secrets. But even as she slowly learns more about the war and the men who fought it, ugly truths about Hallie’s own family are emerging. And while monsters and armies are converging on the small farm, the greatest threat to her home may be Hallie herself.”

I had a bit of a difficult time with this novel.  I started it once, put it down, and had to start it all over again before I could get into it.  I found the first third of the book to be very slow, although I can’t quite pinpoint why I thought that.  There’s certainly plenty going on in those pages, but at the same time, it felt like the action was stalling in one place and waiting for more things to be established before moving forward.  Some of that can be attributed to this being primarily a story about a family, albeit one living in a dystopian future.  Family dynamics can be convoluted at best, and this is a family with a history of violence, abuse and lack of communication.

The groundwork for this familial mess is laid early, as we see Hallie and Marthe bickering endlessly over the smallest of matters.  While the author is setting the foundation for what comes later (the coming together of the sisters after some intense trials of their sisterly bonds), thrusting the readers into the conflicts with no background makes both of them come off as unlikable.  I can see how the author was attempting to show how time, stress and misunderstandings can shake even the strongest of ties, but I just didn’t get a strong enough sense of that in the early pages.

The mystery of Marthe’s missing husband Thom also gets in the way of exploring the family issues.  There are plenty of things going on that drive wedges between the sisters without adding the stress of a missing person.  Thinking back on it, I’m not sure that the plot was at all advanced by wondering about Thom–it could very easily have been skipped by setting the story closer to the time that the final battle of John’s Creek was over and having him be on his way home.

The final third of the novel makes up for a lot of the floundering of the earlier sections.  It is here that the strain between Hallie and Marthe reaches a breaking point, and it’s here that many of the reasons behind their actions begin to come clear.  At this point, the book has a lot to say about the bad habits that we get into with those with love, and about the baggage that you can carry from past family interactions without even realizing it.  This is the part of the book that I enjoyed the most, and it did a lot to salvage my opinion of the story as a whole.

I still think the earliest parts of this novel could have been better, but there is much to enjoy in the stark worldbuilding, the uncanny creatures invading Hallie’s world, and the portrayal of the costs of war.  I’ll definitely tune in to see what Bobet does next–there’s lots of promise in this story that gives me hope for greater skill to come down the line.

This book was borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library, Davis branch.

(Description nicked from B&

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