Kingdom of Ash and Briars, the first in the Nissera Chronicles written by Hannah West, is a fun fairy tale mashup and retelling that keeps the reader interested through to its final page. It follows Bristal, a newly found elicromancer, as she builds up her magic skills with the help of her mentor, Brack, to someday defeat the powerful Tamarice.
Along the way, the story uses plot points similar to those found in Cinderella, Mulan, Sleeping Beauty, and Jane Austin’s Emma. The Cinderella aspect of the book was fun and added a new twist to the cliché norms of high fantasy novels, which was refreshing. Despite this, I wish that the book was longer and took more time or more books to flesh out the characters and events in a way that connects the reader to the book in an emotional aspect. The part where the story reflected the happenings in Mulan was the most fun and the most in need of more detail and moments to push character relationships further, particularly the one between Prince Anthony and Bristal. Anthony ended up being a rather bland character without much personality or giving the reader much reason to believe that the two characters actually liked each other beyond their looks enough to get married.
The most underdeveloped character and largest disappointment was Brack, as he was set up as a major character in the beginning only to be gone for most of the book, leaving the reader to wonder why he is even there because he doesn’t do much. The relationship between him and Bristal suggested romantic tension but failed to do anything more than making the reader slightly angry as the more interesting potentially male love interest slips away. The villain, Tamarice, has a wonderful personality at the beginning of the book, showing flaws to her character that continue to be explained throughout the book, which made her an enjoyable character. She seemed like a powerful villain that would have been more frightening if the book were made into a trilogy. Elinor, the girl who portrayed Cinderella, was wildly underdeveloped and very one dimensional. It’s hard for the reader to understand why she is even included in the book, as neither her nor Charles are particularly integral to the plot. Rose played the roles of sleeping beauty and was more developed but displayed an annoying sort of ignorance that rubbed me the wrong way. She, like Elinor, seemed too perfect, which could have been a reflection on how princesses are shown by the media or a mistake by the author. Bristal as the main character was very laid back and could have used some more development, but she had a very clear air of maturity and reason.
The magic in this book was very intriguing and unique in its rules and simply how it works that places it apart from other young adult fantasy novels. Rather than just having magic that flows out of the character almost endlessly with only days or a month of training, Bristal has to read books, study spells, and train for years to be even half as good as someone as experienced as Tamarice or Brack, showing some limit to magic while not gifting the main character some unexplainable gift. One also has to wear what is called an elicrin stone, each a different color and made specifically for the person meant to wield it, which is what responds to the spells said with the magic. This magic system was one of my favorites I’ve read.
West is writing other books in the Nissera Chronicles, although they don’t seem to be from the perspective of Bristal or any other character mentioned in the book, which gives me hope that the future books will carry on the unique magic system while increasingly getting better with character development as West becomes more experienced.
Overall, I would give Kingdom of Ash and Briars 6/10 dragons and I’m excited to see what books proceed.