Ashes of Gold by J. Elle

Ashes of Gold by J. Elle. Simon & Schuster, 2022. 9781534470705

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3.5

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Fantasy

What did you like about the book?  In this follow-up to last year’s Wings of Ebony, J. Elle pivots from the first book’s focus on the real world setting of East Row (Houston) to a sequel set almost entirely in the fantasy world of Ghizon. In part 1, Rue fought against the evil Chancellor who keeps her neighborhood down through gangs, drugs, and violence. In part 2, she faces a showdown to recapture the magic he stole from the people of Ghizon and uncover a traitor within her ranks. Could it be the Seer who provides this unsetting information? The handsome Jhamal who calls her his Queen, and nurses her back to health after she’s been tortured? Kai, Jhamal’s former lover, and a warrior/leader of the Yakanna sisterhood? Even Rue’s best friend Bri, a tinkerer and healer, comes under suspicion. Over the course of the story, Rue has to outwit the Chancellor’s forces, seek allies among the oppressed and non-magical Maczi, and find a way to summon the Ancestors so the spirits can restore the magic to all of their descendents. The book is action-packed, features a mostly Black cast of characters, and two overlapping love triangles to spice up the story.

Anything you didn’t like about it? I read the first book last fall and could definitely have used more of a recap at the start to reorient myself to the story. Unlike Wings, which explores themes of racism, oppression, and colonialism, Ashes felt more like a conventional teen fantasy sequel, with lots of activity and few moments of contemplation. The worldbuilding in Wings provided sensorial details, background information, and real life relationships (especially the focus on Rue’s family), but I got very little feel for the island of Ghizon, its organization, traditions, or even its topography. Even the magic was pretty vague. Small point, but it really bothered me that for a big chunk of the second half of the book, Rue is on the run and deep into scary stuff, but manages to spend time and energy texting her friend Julius back in East Row. Spoiler alert: they end up together in the end, but really? It just made Rue seem distracted. 

To whom would you recommend this book?  Teens who loved the first book will want to check out this readable sequel.Those looking for books with Black Girl Magic and adventure will find it satisfying. Black Panther fans would be a natural audience or readers looking for an easier alternative to the more ambitious War Girls/Rebel Sisters duology by Tochi Onyebuchi.

Who should buy this book? High schools and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? YA fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: May 4, 2022

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