“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” ~Lao Tzu
From the time he was a young child, Yarroway L. Estrella of 'Ash and Echoes' by Augusta Li has had a special talent for conjuring. Over the years, he's become even more adept, skilled to the point that men fear his abilities. Even so, Yarrow is uncertain about them. He hasn't yet figured out just how powerful he truly is. Yarrow has the knowledge, but has yet to acquire the wisdom it takes to wield such power effectively. This story is about his journey toward that wisdom and the consequences of his actions as he attains it.
Yarrow is an amazing combination of compassion, gentleness, worldliness, insolence, neediness, strength, and power. He keeps his feelings to himself rather than imposing them on others. Yarrow is a very unselfish person who truly needs someone to love him. He can name a thousand ways why this isn't possible, but when love comes to him, he revels in it, giving his body and affection freely, but when he decides that's not what's best for everyone, he can just as easily withdraw and do what he has to do. He's such a contradiction. Physically, he seems almost fragile, but he's not. Yarrow can definitely take care of himself; sometimes a mere flick of his wrist is all it takes. As powerful as he is, he doesn't take it for granted. He accepts the consequences which go along with his wizardry and realizes that power without the wisdom it takes to use it judiciously takes a lot of experience and contemplation. In addition, the host he carries within presents even greater challenges in his journey to greater knowledge. Yarrow must not only learn to manage his own abilities, but those of his host as well. Although the host has amazing skills and power and offers Yarrow a plethora of power, his ideas about life are quite different from Yarrow's which often put them at odds.
The knight, Duncan, is the epitome of a good and righteous man. He's loyal, dedicated, moral, gentle, protective, and passionate. Duncan is also a man who is wise enough to admit when he's wrong and open-minded enough to change his opinion if the situation warrants it. When he first meets Yarrow, he's not impressed. Yarrow is young, slightly-built, and looks more like a boy than a man, especially compared to the type of men that Duncan is used to associating with. He can't imagine why the king would want him to accompany the prince and his men on what could very well be a perilous journey. Duncan sees him as weak and ineffective, as someone else he will have to protect, a bother more than an advantage. When Yarrow shatters his image by not being the soft, useless, person he imagines and, in fact, proves to be brave, strong, and very powerful, Duncan is the first to admit he's wrong. His views are also challenged by Sasha, the trained assassin, with whom he has to put aside pre-conceived notions in order to admit that, in spite of his past, Sasha is a brave man, useful ally, and eventually someone he admires and trusts.
Sasha, a trained assassin, is a complex, and illusive person. Even though he says he's trained to have no emotions and can't feel love, he's extremely loving toward Yarrow and, later Duncan as well. He's actually quite protective of both men. What Sasha says and what he feels, or at least needs to feel, seem like a contradiction and Duncan, especially, calls him on it. Sasha has a lot of soul-searching to do, especially when he discovers that his 'brotherhood' has turned on him and he's not the hunted instead of the hunter. Everything he's known from a young age needs to be reconsidered. For the first time in his life, he is without a purpose and alienated from the only fellowship he's ever known. Fortunately, Yarrow and Duncan are there for him, not only for companionship, but to give him a direction in which to travel forward while he's re-evaluating his life. In some ways, Sasha has the greatest sacrifice and challenge to overcome, and it takes a man with his strength to accomplish it.
'Ash and Echoes' is a fantastic story of three very strong men, all different, but joined together in a relationship which defies logic, but is strong and lasting. Yarrow, Duncan, and Sasha enhance each other's strengths and negate their weaknesses, forming a unit which is unstoppable. In addition to the hard-won union between the three men, there is lots of action and adventure, entwined with great world-building, fantasy, magic, betrayal, and all the things that make for an amazing complex, but never boring tale. It's horrific at times, definitely dark, but also very sensual, almost brutal sometimes even within the physical bounds of the ménage between Duncan, Yarrow, and Sasha, which very much matches the equivalent medieval time period presented in the story. It's exciting, heart breaking, passionate, compelling, heavy, brutal, and amazing all at the same time. I did not want it to end, and am anxiously awaiting the second book in the series. If your taste in reading leans toward the esoteric, magical world of mages, knights, spells, darkness, and the battle between good and evil, then you may enjoy this story. Thank you, Augusta, for such an insightful and exciting journey into the fantasy world of Yarroway L. Estrella and his associates. I can hardly wait for the continuation of this story.