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Testament of Steel by Davis Ashura

Testament of Steel by Davis Ashura
4.25
Book Name: Testament of Steel
Author: Davis Ashura
Publisher(s): Self-Published
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: July 3, 2020

If Cradle were set in South Asia with elves and dwarves.

I had been aware of Davis Ashura as an author of South Asian fantasy for several years and got to see him speak on a panel about diversity in fantasy at DragonCon (before the plague cancelled all the cons). Duly impressed by demeanor and his wide breadth of knowledge (he discussed axe handles with a cosplayer on a live mic before the panel started), I moved his Castes and Outcasts series from deep in my Kindle dungeon to somewhere in the middle. Sadly, I have so little actual reading time, and the series languishes there to this day.

However, his latest release, Testament of Steel shot to rarified air in the Amazon charts, and several friends recommended it. Flaunting my Fantasy-Faction credentials, I pulled some strings with Podium and was able to snag a promo code for the audiobook of what turned out to be a progression fantasy set in a second world South Asia with classic fantasy races. With such great power comes great responsibility, namely the tacit obligation to write a review.

And it’s been hard to get started.

That’s because there’s so much to love about Testament of Steel, starting with the title itself. With an economy of words, it conveyed deep meaning and imagery for me; and I feel this reflects the prose as a whole. Like Alec Hutson in The Crimson Queen, Ashura always seems to find the right word for the right situation and builds beautiful sentences that flow into beautiful paragraphs.

Even more impressive is how distinctive the narrative voices are between the main character, the human Cinder, and the secondary character, the elf princess Anya.

As someone who wakes with no memory of his past, Cinder’s narration carries a sense of wonder at everything new. Crippled by a club foot, he fits the underdog trope; but unlike the self-insertion wish-fulfillment Gary Stus who are good at everything, Cinder excels just quickly enough to get himself into trouble. He usually fails before he eventually reaches his goals, first entering a fighting school, then later joining an elite military academy.

As with most academy stories, there are training sequences, tests, challenge matches, friendships, and rivals, and possible love interests as well. Anya fills this forbidden role, yet at the same time is a fully realized character herself. As one of the instructors of the academy, her narrative voice is filled with a longing for something lost, mixed with something of a “been there, seen that” attitude. Her power level is far above of Cinder’s, and he would be a completely inappropriate match for her. It’s not a romantic arc in the traditional sense, yet a distinct chemistry simmers between them.

In addition to these two, Ashura crafts memorable characters—a task even more impressive given the sheer size of the cast. He also paints vibrant locales, from mountain villages to sprawling cities.

Equally impressive is worldbuilding. There’s a South Asian aesthetic to it; yet it’s mixed with Western races like elves and dwarves. Each have their own special abilities and origins, and both are superior to humans in the progressive combat system. The deep lore makes the world feel real and lived in.

The beautiful prose, compelling characters, and textured worldbuilding come together in a quick-paced, engaging story. With that in mind, I rate Testament of Steel 9.25 stars out of 10.

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