"Ash: A Secret History
" is an excellent fantasy novel
by UK author Mary Gentle
. The novel
describes the life of Ash
, a Joan of Arc
Ash is a young teenager, living in mercenary army camps at the end of the 15th century. She starts hearing voices in her head, giving her tactical advice on battlefield situations. When she becomes a successful battlefield commander, she forms her own mercenary army and gets involved in the protection of Burgundy against an invasion.
This novel gives a very gritty, realistic view of life in the 15th century. Right from the start the reader is confronted with the mud, blood, sweat and pain of the life of a soldier. Gentle is not afraid to hurt or kill her characters. Even though the story is brutal and often horrifying, it is always a compelling read.
"Ash: A Secret History" is presented as the translation of a manuscript, complete with footnotes explaining some of the archaic terms. The correspondence between Pierce Ratcliff, the fictional scholar who is translating the work, and his editor Anna Longman, is inserted between the chapters of Ash's life. This correspondence adds an entirely new dimension to the story, explaining some of the anachronistic expressions and some of the differences between Ash's version of history and our own. Another reviewer called this novel a combination of fantasy and scholarly mistery.
Mary Gentle, an accomplished scholar herself, acquired an MA in War Studies as part of the writing process of this novel.
"Ash: A Secret History" was advertised in the UK as "the largest single-volume fantasy novel ever", which is quite possibly true at 1100 pages. In the US, however, the novel was split into 4 separate volumes: "A Secret History", "Carthage Ascendant", "The Wild Machines" and "Lost Burgundy".