Thursday, January 12, 2017

Raven Song (Inoki's Game # 1) by IA Ashcroft (Blog Tour)

Raven Song is the first book in this series called Inoki's Game, by IA Ashcroft introducing us to this dark, dystopian world, teetering after a nuclear holocaust, filled with magic and inexplicable dangers. I took this up on a whim after I read the premise of the book. I signed up for the blog tour ( and as usual, I got a bit late in posting the review!) and started the same, the last week of my holiday season hoping I could whizz through it. Alas - a combination of reasons saw me plod through it and not wrap this up in time. Well, mainly two reasons. The pacing of the novel and of course, the new year rush that crowds in on your time.


About the Book

A century ago, the world burned. Even now, though rebuilt and defiant, civilization is still choking on the ashes.

Jackson, a smuggler, lives in the shadows, once a boy with no memory, no name, and no future. Ravens followed him, long-extinct birds only he could see, and nightmares flew in their wake. Once, Jackson thought himself to be one of the lucky few touched by magic, a candidate for the Order of Mages. He is a man now, and that dream has died. But, the ravens still follow. The nightmares still whisper in his ear.

Anna’s life was under the sun, her future bright, her scientific work promising. She knew nothing of The Bombings, the poisoned world, or the occult. One day, she went to work, and the next, she awoke in a box over a hundred years in the future, screaming, fighting to breathe, and looking up into the eyes of a smuggler. Anna fears she’s gone crazy, unable to fill the massive hole in her memories, and terrified of the strange abilities she now possesses.

The Coalition government has turned its watchful eyes towards them. The secret factions of the city move to collect them first. And, old gods stir in the darkness, shifting their pawns on the playing field.

If Anna and Jackson wish to stay free, they must learn what they are and why they exist.

Unfortunately, even if they do, it may be too late.

Raven Song is the first of a four book adult-oriented dystopian fantasy series, a story of intrigue, love, violence, and the old spirits in the shadows who wait for us to notice them again. Readers of Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, and Charlie Human will enjoy this dark magic-laced tale rooted on the bones of what our world could become.


Author Bio:

I. A. Ashcroft has been writing fiction in many forms for almost twenty years. The author's first book, written at age seven, featured the family cat hunting an evil sorceress alongside dragons and eagles. This preoccupation with the fantastical has not changed in the slightest.

Now, the author dwells in Phoenix, AZ alongside a wonderful tale-spinner and two increasingly deranged cats. Ashcroft writes almost exclusively in the realm of darker fantasy these days, loving to entertain adults with stories of magic, wonder, despair, violence, and hope, bringing a deep love of mythology into every tale penned. The author also loves diverse and intriguing casts of characters.

When not buried in a book, one might find Ashcroft learning languages, charting road trips, and playing tabletop RPGs with clever and fun people.


You can buy the book here: Amazon || Barnes & Noble || Kobo

Review

There's nothing wrong with the plot itself and its a fairly original, fresh take on the dystopian fiction. We land right in the middle of a futuristic society, living in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, a technologically created 'barrier' protecting the atmosphere within the cities and people protected from the mutations and 'magic' as spread by the nuclear poisoning by this government agency called 'Coalition'.

Into this chaotic mess, we land in with Jackson, a smuggler with 'weird dreams' problems who as a boy has no memory of his past and Anna, a research scientist who lands up in current times trapped in a box, having no memory of how she time-traveled from the past. And of course, both of them have unexplored talents that ticks off the antennae of the government agents - and a lot of other nefarious organizations for their own vested goals.

You see, both our protagonists have this 'memory' issue. While a powerful hook in itself, I thought this premise left too much questions unanswered. And Ashcroft doesn't make it easy on the reader either - While the tension is cranked up slowly higher, we are left fuming, impatient and tapping our foot as both Jackson and Anna play the bumbling idiots, waiting for circumstances to land them in hotter soup than they already are. I felt both the leads tended to play the 'helpless' because of the raw hand dealt by Fate way too often. The initial first half of the book, there really wasn't much happening, Ashcroft setting up his lead characters with a lot of introspection.

And indeed, the beauty of the book is that there is a lot of that introspection that moves the plot forward. There is back-stories to both Jackson and Anna - recurring dreams, moving shadows and of course, the presence of the mysterious ravens. As an urban fantasy that weaves down the streets of dark and devilish, Ashcroft does a bang-up job. The tropes are of course there, the Chosen Ones and Old Magi who can guide the lost ones etc - but right around the halfway mark, Ashcroft does a complete 180-degree flip and reveals one of the main antagonists; and this literally blew me away and made me sit up. He does a great job of painting up the characterization of the villain and weaves in some of the random narratives into this explanation.

Jackson and Anna both are well fleshed lead characters but somehow, they don't exactly behave in the way you would expect the hero/heroine of an urban fantasy to act. They get to their grooves eventually but Ashcroft makes them take their sweet time, getting to their powers. Riddled by self-doubts, unreliable memories and craven, because of extenuating circumstances they are thrust into, Jackson and Anna definitely weren't my favorite people. There are characters introduced early on who don't get so well utilized ( Hello, Genial Old Man Magi!) by the end of the story. And well, there weren't too many pay-offs for the questions built up over the course of this story.

For all this, I am going in with a 3-star; Somewhere past the half-way mark, Ashcroft really rises the quality of his writing, jump-starts the plodding narrative injecting a lot of tension and some well set up action. The jittery Jackson and Ann-combo really made my day in those few heart-wrenching moments when they take on the villain together. With just too many questions left unanswered and cryptic clues about Inoki's Game, it is obvious Ashcroft is in this for the long haul. Color me curious, I will get on that ride. The Game, as they say, is ON.

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