An inventive and brave story with feminist themes, Savarna Yang
August 26, 2021
‘“What is a witch, but a woman who understood something a man did not?”’
Ash is a Mystic: a master of illusions and magic. For some, she is a captivating and charismatic performer. But for others, she is a witch to be feared and persecuted. Someone to be spat at in the street. Someone who should not be allowed. A girl who should stay at home, out of the way. Lucky for us she’s a fighter and isn’t going to back down easily.
On a quest to win The Queen’s Seal, an award presented to the best Mystic in the land, Ash must battle through the puritanical ‘basilica’ and prove that she is worthy to perform before the Queen. Along the way she’ll encounter mysterious strangers, unwelcome suitors and some very narrow escapes. Can she survive all the way to the end?
The Unflinching Ash is a riveting story of danger and intrigue set in a parallel world similar to medieval times. Written by Angela Armstrong, it’s told from three different perspectives, Ash (the protagonist), Ren (the mysterious stranger) and Odell (the leader of Ash’s opposition).
The first thing that hit me when I received the book was the cover. Unfortunately, I found it a bit off putting to have what was clearly the main character staring at you. It just makes it harder to imagine your own version of Ash. But I guess the moral of the story is don’t judge a book by its cover!
Although the writing could have been more closely edited and I found the beginning slightly confusing, by the second chapter I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. With exciting and interesting descriptions (‘drew infinity with her irises’, ‘a glowing corona’) and lots of action, it was impossible to stop reading. Every time Ash got into a tight corner I’d wonder how will she get out of this mess? But there was always a new and inventive way to solve the problem.
One of the reasons I was initially confused was because I was a little unsure of some of the unusual words used in Ash’s world (nesh? scroggling? mimping?). I did figure most of it out by the end of the book but it might have been helpful to have the terms and their meanings listed at the start.
The characters in The Unflinching Ash were a real highlight for me. Well thought out, their personalities were constant throughout the story and at the same time relatable. You have the contrast between Ash and her sister Grete, one outgoing and a risk-taker, the other quieter and calm, and this just brings out their individual traits even more. Then you have Odell, the ‘bad character’ but as you learn more about her background, and understand the reason she is the way she is, you really feel sorry for her.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical literature because, although it’s set in a fictional place, it’s based on the Middle Ages. With perilous rescues and hazardous getaways this is a story of feminism and bravery in a world from long ago.
– Savarna is 13 years old and lives near Dunedin.