Review | Throne of Ice and Ash – JDL Rosell

About the Book

A throne in peril, a tragic betrayal, two heirs struggling to save their land, and a prophesied war threatening to engulf the world…

Bjorn, son of the Jarl of Oakharrow, has always felt more at ease with a quill than a sword. Yet when calamity strikes his family, he must draw a blade and lead a company of warriors into the cold, deadly mountains in pursuit of a mysterious foe. But though he seeks vengeance, an ancient power stirs in him, and the whispers of prophecy beckon him toward an ominous destiny…

Aelthena, Bjorn’s sister, was born with the aptitude to lead, and she’s eager to prove it. But her society’s rules for women, and her love for her brother, restrain her efforts to command. As she walks the fine line between ambition and virtue, enemies of both mankind and myth rise against the city, and even her allies question her right to rule…

The Runewar is rising — and it begins with the fall of the throne.

385 pages (Kindle)
Published on May 24, 2021
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I edited this book

I’ve recently had a boatload of Nordic-inspired fantasy come my way for editing. As a person who has never really thought, “WOO! NORDIC-FLAVORED FANTASY! YES!” it’s really been a thing I’ve been adjusting to. On a purely editorial side of things, I will say that Nordic fantasy, and fantasy heavily featuring dragons seems to be in right now. Those aren’t always found in the same books, but as far as that side of my business is going, those two elements seem to be occurring in the books I edit far more frequently now than they have in the past. 

On a purely personal basis, I’ve learned I really enjoy Nordic-inspired fantasy. 

Throne of Ice & Ash is one of those books that had me thinking, “ah, I know how this is going to go” when I started editing it, and by the end of it I was reeling. “I DID NOT EXPECT THAT” I yelled at my husband at one point. 

Set in a secondary world, there is an interesting marriage of Medieval and Nordic elements at play here. We have ruling families, inheritance at stake, and conflicts with surrounding territories. Here the king (Jarl, as he is called) is mad, and his eldest son is set to inherit and is acting in the father’s stead. Tragedy strikes early on, leaving Bjorn, the surviving son, on the path to inherit his father’s mantle. Bjorn, however, isn’t suited to that particular job. A scholar, quiet and reclusive, he’s more fit for study and quiet work than ruling a people. His sister, however, does have the temperament and aptitude for such a task. The problem is, she happens to be the wrong gender. 

And so early on, we are thrust into this world of complicated politics, madness, inheritance, where instability is made even more dramatic through an act of, what could be considered, terrorism. At this point, the threads split. Bjorn leaves, exiles himself from his kingdom and gives his rights to rule to his sister in his stead. Up into the high mountains he goes, to discover what he can from the far-flung tribes of the high reaches. 

Althea, on the other hand, stays put, trying to navigate treacherous political waters while mourning a family she’s lost and trying to find out who did this and why. Politics and intrigue are thick in her storyline. As a woman, she is not only fighting for her family and her rights, but she’s fighting against a group of people who see her as less due to her gender. Her battles take place on multiple levels and depths, in numerous different ways. 

Both characters are almost complete opposites. Bjorn is quiet, uncertain, unwilling to take control, and this is something he struggles with throughout his storyline. Here, we have a flawed character who makes mistakes, and his mistakes are shockingly human, as are the results of said mistakes. I suppose I can say Bjorn was, first and foremost, human. He was a man I could actually picture living somewhere in the world, with complex problems and a personality not quite suited to them. I loved how Rosell wasn’t afraid to take this character, flaws and all, and push him past his comfort zone. I also loved how Rosell wasn’t afraid to allow his character to stumble and fall. In fact, I think characters like Bjorn aren’t common enough in fantasy. His personal arc and evolution throughout the book was fantastically well done. As Bjorn searches for the answers to his own mystery, he also, in a way, finds himself. It’s not easy, and it’s not painless, but the path from who he was at the beginning of the book, to who he ended up being at the end was masterful. 

Althea was a character who frustrated me and intrigued me in equal measure. A woman who has the capability and temperament to rule in a male-dominated world is a tricky thing to write, and when I started reading her storyline, I knew she’d frustrate me, and I knew she’d need to frustrate me. Again, Rosell isn’t afraid to make his characters make poor choices, stumble, and occasionally fall. Althea was interesting because she’s hemmed in by tradition and expectation, she also has all these family connections, and she’s in an incredibly weakened position from which to navigate these treacherous waters. Through her, we see more of Oakharrow, more of the politics, and the immediate surrounding area. We get an view of the culture, the warring factions, the pressure from both inside and outside, and this woman who is trying to hold it all together in spite of the fact that everything has come some dramatically undone. 

Alone and isolated, despite the fact that she’s surrounded by people, Althea was a captivating character to follow. 

Intricate and detailed, with a world that is as nuanced as the characters that inhabit it, this is an incredible start to a series. It’s clear that Rosell plans to take this series in a few different directions. I got the feeling that the events that transpire here are really just a snowball, and he’s starting to roll it down the mountain. By the end of the book, there are hints at the wider world, at places beyond the reach of what was covered here, at peoples and cultures that we haven’t encountered yet. How it will all relate to Althea and Bjorn, I can only guess, but it’s really fun for me to sit here, and ponder what will happen next. 

There were several points in this book where the plot took unexpected turns, and quite frankly, I didn’t expect the ending of either storyline, which thrilled me to bits. From this point on, I’m not sure what I expect. This book was a wild ride, and Rosell set himself a formidable task of not only creating this sprawling secondary world, but a plot and characters to fit it. As the start of a new series, A Throne of Ice & Ash was incredibly strong, extremely gripping, and impossible to put down. 

I can’t wait to see where he takes me next. 

5/5 stars