Paul reviews, in a very sweary manner, The Trials of Ashmount by John Palladino, book one in the Tragedy of Cedain series.
|Series: The Tragedy of Cedain #1
|Genre: Grimdark Fantasy
|Date of Publishing: June 21st, 2022
|Trigger Warnings: All of them
|Page count: 576
|Publisher: Self Published
Cedain is destined to collapse.
Across a world rife with blood, betrayal, and brutality, five people wade through unexpected tragedies.
An egotistical student, a fleeing refugee, a nomadic warrior, a fallen noble, and a criminal in hiding navigate the sinister dealings of politicians, two sudden wars, and nefarious lies that surface at Ashmount—a university dedicated to teaching the five branches of magic.
Survival means adapting or dying.
‘A single slice later, and [REDACTED]’s mouth filled with blood. He screamed, then choked on blood. [REDACTED] tossed the muscle onto the tavern’s floor.’
( Names redacted as I ain’t spoling who’s getting done and who it is that’s doing the doing – Paul )
If you’ve been hanging around the Self-Published SFF community on Twitter recently, you’ve likely seen The Trials of Ashmount by John Palladino mentioned quite often. It’s Palladino’s debut novel and the first book in his Grimdark series ‘Tragedy of Cedain’.
The Trials of Ashmount is an extremely close-focused, character-driven novel set in a varied and expansive world. That being the case, and given the dubious morality of every character, it’s fair to say that Palladino is an author very much in the mould of Abercrombie, so if you’re a fan of Lord Grimdark, definitely check out The Grim Bastard.
You experience the bleak and nihilistic world through five primary PoV characters, along with a handful of secondary ones encountered in the easter egg style interludes. The main characters are all certified residents of the ‘Bastard Spectrum’ though they are continually shifting between the lighter ‘They’re a canny bastard’ and the darker ‘They’re a right bastard’ ends of that delectable spectrum.
Of all the characters, my favourites were, without doubt, Demri Slarn and Edelbrock Brendis:
Demri Slarn is reminiscent of Abercrombie’s Sand dan Glokta; he’s powerful, intelligent, scheming, and ruthlessly vicious. He was also left severely injured from incidents in his early life. When he first enters the story, he’s an extremely unlikable character; he feels semi-feral and without any redeeming features. Credit to Palladino, though, as he managed to completely one-eighty my initial opinions thanks to some top-notch character development, so come the end, I’d happily let him burn the world but would want court-side seats.
Edelbrock Brendis is a difficult one to talk about, as his character arc is so twisty that it’s difficult to say anything without spoilers. I will say that it’s a rags-to-riches-to-rags story with a dollop of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator thrown in.
The other PoV characters didn’t hit the same heights for me, as I didn’t feel they developed quite as much as Demri and Edelbrock. That being said, I possibly disliked Kelden more so because he was a superior little git, and so I didn’t like him as a person, I feel bad trash-talking a kid, but he deserves it!!
The other secondary and background characters, with one or two exceptions, are less questionable and more straight-up grotesque in their personalities. They’re so twisted in thoughts, motivations, and deeds that they’re well past the ‘Bastard Spectrum’ and really enhance the Grimdark feel of the world.
The Trials of Ashmount is at no point a light or easy read, it’s exceptionally dark and brutal throughout. In terms of trigger warnings, I’m not being flippant when I say all of them, there’s extreme violence, death, rape, infanticide, cannibalism and often all on one page. Sometimes it did feel that certain things were being pushed into the narrative to reinforce the Grimdarkery that weren’t perhaps needed and so came off a little forced. It’s not something that detracted from my enjoyment, but some of the things that happen could feel a little in your face or gratuitous to other readers.
There’s a fair amount of world-building on display, given that that story takes place over multiple kingdoms, countries, and continents. You learn a great deal as you move through the book, both organically and through some info-dumps, once you’re finished, though, you’re left with far more questions than answers, which has me chomping at the bit for book two.
Palladino does a fantastic job of answering just enough of the main questions, particularly around the apparently counterproductive nature of the Trials, as well as pulling together the, at first glance, widely disparate characters in really satisfying ways. There are also plenty of light-bulb moments that tie into very subtle sprinklings of foreshadowing that I had completely overlooked when I first read them.
Narratively I enjoyed The Trials of Ashmount, it is told with a very direct voice that lends itself well to the darker themes and makes for a surprisingly quick read for a nearly 600-page book. There were some issues with repetition, some dialogue that felt as if it were coming from the author rather than the character, and it did sometimes lack a little atmosphere owing to the directness.
Despite the minor issues, The Trials of Ashmount was a great read with plenty of action, skulduggery, and skulfuckery, and one that I enjoyed from start to finish.
This is a series and author that I’m excited to see grow and develop, I genuinely can’t wait to see John Palladino trample more blood and shit through the halls of Grimdark.