REVIEW: First, Become Ashes by K.M. Szpara

The Official Description: The Fellowship raised Lark to kill monsters.
His partner betrayed them to the Feds.

But Lark knows his magic is real, and he’ll do anything to complete his quest.

K. M. Szpara follows Docile, one of the most anticipated science fiction novels of 2020, with First, Become Ashes, a fantastic standalone adventure that blends pain and pleasure and will make readers question what is real, and what is magical.

Lark spent the first twenty-four years, nine months, and three days of his life training for a righteous quest: to rid the world of monsters. Alongside his partner Kane, he wore the cage and endured the scourge in order to develop his innate magic. He never thought that when Kane left, he’d next see him in the company of FBI agents and a SWAT team. He never dreamed that the leader of the Fellowship of the Anointed would be brought up on charges of abuse and assault.

He never expected the government would tell him that the monsters aren’t real—that there is no magic, and all the pain was for nothing.

Lark isn’t ready to give up. He is determined to fulfill his quest, to defeat the monsters he was promised. Along the way he will grapple with the past, confront love, and discover his long-buried truth.

At the Publisher’s request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Just the facts: a mixture of fantasy/delusion/mystery, explicit sex, reading warnings is important

The characters in this book are struggling to separate fantasy from reality and Szpara takes the reader along on the ride. I loved this book… I was invested from the beginning. Couldn’t put it down! it is extraordinary.Kinzie Things

My thoughts bit: This is one of those books that is tricky to review without giving away details that would take away from the experience of reading it. This book feels almost like a new genre to me… like a merging of fantasy and mainstream fiction with a dash of pop culture thrown in.

Lark and Kane are on the threshold of a life change when this story begins. They are both members of the “Anointed”. They have spent their entire lives being trained, learning to harness and control their magical skills through ritual and discipline. Druid Hill is a fortress-like home for the anointed and those who train and care for them. They are cut off from the outside world of humans.. and monsters. The monsters who inhabit the world outside the safety of their walls are the creatures that the anointed must one day fight and conquer in order to protect everyone.

It is Kane who leaves the safety of those walls first… and Lark is left alone. He’s lost without his partner but doubles down on his commitment to his training and his beliefs. He can count the time in days until he can be out fighting side by side with Kane once more.

This is when things explode around Lark. The FBI bust into Druid Hill and everyone is dragged kicking and screaming from the only home they have known. The most horrifying thing for Lark is that Kane seems to be working with the FBI.

Here, I would warn anyone who chooses to read this book, to consider reading content warnings. The characters in this story have been subjected to a variety of non-consensual sex and BDSM practices. All of the violence and sexual abuse/violence in the past that is portrayed in the novel is in the context of giving the reader a great understanding of what the main characters have lived through.

The truly interesting thing about this story is that it seems to be a straight forward case of someone being taught that they are something they are not. When Lark is faced with Kane telling him that everything they have been taught is false… he simply won’t accept it. Has he been brainwashed to the point at which he can no longer be convinced? Is Kane wrong? Of course, one might be inclined to think of Lark as an unreliable narrator. This book is not quite as straight-forward as you might think and I found that refreshing.

Lark bolts and finds himself allied with a young man named Calvin. Calvin is a cosplayer, a self-proclaimed and proud “nerd”. And Calvin desperately wants magic to be real. Lark represents magic and everything that Calvin wants to believe exists in his world. Together the two men combine magical skill and technology to help Lark fulfill his mission. He needs to find and kill the monster that is threatening all of humankind.

Please don’t dismiss this novel as a quirky sort of fantasy… that’s not at all what it is. This is a very serious look at the way our beliefs can be controlled by those who have power over us. It also explores the other side of the coin… our hopes, our deeply hidden desires can influence what we believe and how we choose to act. This is a book that will definitely warrant a second reading once I have let some of it simmer a bit in my mind.

If you read the warnings and are okay with the content, I would encourage you to read this. This is a wonderful story. It combines uncomfortable subject matter with hope and it was oddly entertaining at times even amidst the darkness of the characters’ pasts. I love unique books, and “First, Become Ashes” is definitely unique!

Things You May Want To Know: Please be aware, I’m by no means an expert on what may or may not have the potential to disturb people. I simply list things that I think a reader might want to be aware of. In this book: (SPOILERS) Vivid depictions of sexual assault, rape, and abuse, cult behavior, brainwashing, physical assault, physical altercations, BDSM practiced nonconsensually, characters are deceived regarding their backgrounds and capabilities, a character is shot, a character is shot with an arrow, graphic depictions of self-harm, unsafe BDSM practices.

Links: Goodreads // The Author // The Publisher

I received an ARC of First, Become Ashes by K.M. Szpara from Tor via Edelweiss in exchange for an unbiased review.

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