Review: A Testament of Steel (Instrument of Omens #1) by Davis Ashura

Rating: 7.5/10

Synopsis

Cinder Shade’s life begins on a fateful afternoon at the bottom of a well where he awakens, bruised, battered, and bereft of all memory. His only understanding is a driving imperative—to protect those who can’t defend themselves and become a warrior worthy of the name.

He discovers within himself a peculiar gift, one in which the codes of combat are made evident and the language of steel is made clear. When he earns a place at a prestigious elven warrior academy, Cinder fights to enhance his knowledge and perhaps even humble the proud elves who believe no human is their equal.

His hard-earned skills are put to the test when strange rumblings emanate from deep in the Dagger Mountains. Monsters out of myth emerge. And so does something far worse . . .

An ancient god. The world believes this deity long dead, but he is very much alive. And he remembers his enemies all too well. Even if they don’t remember themselves. 

Review

“Perhaps even the worst of us are worthy of Devesh’s mercy, and if so, what does it mean for how we should treat one another?”

I mostly listened to this on audiobook and wanted to give a big shoutout to one of my favorite narrators, Nick Podehl. He managed to do an amazing job yet again.

This book was somewhat hard for me to rate. On one hand my enjoyment level was pretty high. I had a lot of fun with this book and am excited for when the second book comes out. However, there were some weaknesses that didn’t impact my enjoyment too much, but I felt I needed to address both in the rating and in this review.

To start on a positive note, I really enjoyed the mystery and intrigue that permeated this book. The story follows a 16 year old boy named Cinder. He wakes up after his parents have been killed with no memory of who he is and you follow him as he starts to piece his life together. This was the driving force of much of the book and it really hooked me from the start.

Cinder is a very intriguing character. His drive for excellence in all things is something that I am always drawn to in a character. He’s also uncompromising in doing the right thing and standing on his principles, while being humble at the same time. Cinder is a really good character and I had fun following his POV for the majority of this story.

The other POV that took up some of the story was of an elf princess named Anya. She also has a mysterious past that she cannot remember and that alone made me invested in her story. She is considered one of, if not the best Elven warrior there is. Although we don’t get to see her fight too much in this one, I think that is going to change in the coming books and I am so excited to see it! She is a complex character and I actually found myself even more invested in her story than in Cinder’s, though I do really enjoy both.

The biggest struggle I had was that the dialogue concerning good and evil was somewhat cheesy. There wasn’t really room for gray morality or even just a nuanced conversation around the topic. This part of the story really reminded me of classic fantasy and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, the dialogue around good vs evil had me rolling my eyes a little at points. However, it wasn’t all bad. The strength of the main character to not be bitter in the midst of a society that looks down on him, to forge bonds of friendship with those that are different from him, and to fight for justice was inspiring and compelling.

Another aspect of the book that I enjoyed was the action. Davis Ashura does a really good job of describing each fight and there are a lot of them. Also, the fights that weren’t training always felt high stakes and like they meant something. I never felt like there was no danger to the main characters in this fight and that is really important to me in being fully invested in the story’s action sequences.

The overall pacing of the plot was good, however there was a point in the middle of the book that I felt could have been cut down. The story started to drag a little bit because it was getting repetitive.  However, this was only a small part of the story and overall was not a huge problem for me.

World building is usually not a huge deal for me. As long as it is satisfactory and makes sense I don’t need a ton of detail or anything like that. So for me, it says a lot that I want to know more of this world in a really good way. In particular I want to know more of the war between the legendary magic users that this world reveres and the forces that they opposed. There is so much mystery because of the possible innaccuracies in what people have been told to believe compared to what really happened and I NEED to know the truth.

Another thing that I thought was well done was subverting some typical classic fantasy tropes when it comes to the races of the world. Humans, dwarves, and elves are the main races in this world like a classic fantasy would be, but the relationship between them and the characteristics of each are often quite different from what I usually expect from them. This aspect made the story feel refreshing and unique enough to increase my enjoyment overall.

There is a romance aspect to the story that I ended up enjoying quite a bit. It was awkward, innocent, and was relevant to the overall story. Actually, I kinda loved it. It was just really sweet and the back and forth between the two characters was great. Really pulling for them to make it!

Overall this was a really fun story that I am very invested in. I am very excited to read the second book, The Memories of Prophecy, that I believe is coming out in 2021!

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