Monday, September 11, 2017

Book Review: Upon the Ashes of Empire

The Ballard Chronicles

The Ballard Chronicles is the sequel of The Aielund Saga books written by author and artist Stephen Nowland. They follow the adventures of Aislin Ballard and companions as they track a powerful villain.

Book 3, Upon the Ashes of Empire


Across frozen mountains and through dark forests, Aislin Ballard and her companions pursue the tyrant who captured their ally and friend into the very heart of enemy territory. Along the way she will face the best and worst of humanity, and astonishing forces which reveal the darkest depths of her soul. But none of this will prepare her for the magnitude of the threat facing this foreign land, as an ancient power, capable of burning entire cities to ash, is unearthed. While she and her companions may be on a mission to save their friend, Aislin finds herself in a unique position to try and save her enemies from themselves.


Easily the best book Stephen L. Nowland has written to this point.  The story draws you in and takes you for the ride without letting go.  The dangers and situations the characters get into are intense and frightening and you're never quite sure if everyone's going to make it.

With each book, Aislin Ballard matures into a more dynamic character and young woman.  She exemplifies determination and optimism not often found.  She continues to excel in this book, however other characters are allowed a chance to shine through.

Jaz's history is filled in when they visit her country.  You learn much more about her including the reason she was in Aislin's country to begin with.  She plays a pivotal role in the plot.  Her wizardry is fun to watch as she explores new things, but her accidental roguish qualities is my favorite aspect.

My favorite character in this book though is Max.  His intelligence and determination to succeed no matter the odds gets the reader's adrenaline going.  His conversations with Madelyn made me chuckle while I admired the wit between the two.  Max and Madelyn made each other better and more interesting.  In fact, I actually found myself looking forward more to their chapters than even Aislin's.

Even Osric has a new villain friend to play with who works with him to create an object that could lead to greater destruction than even he may realize.  I do think the author could have dawdled on these two a bit longer to let us enjoy their despicableness, but I'm sure the heroes didn't mind not having to listen to any more of their crap.

While this book stands out on its own, the history of the countries come into play with surprising references that tie to the prior Aielund Saga bringing greater depth and understanding of the world.  They lay the setting for potential future series and get me excited for what may come.

With most Indie Authors, you have to watch for spelling and grammar issues.  Not so with these books.  They are a professional quality and well edited.  There are no wasted words or scenes.  Everything advances the story in a way that you stop hearing the author's voice.

The Ballard Chronicles follow the events of the Aielund Saga.  However, it is not necessary to read those in order to properly enjoy this series.  It calls to the actions and deeds of the Saga as backstory and fills in only what you need to know to understand events in this one.  This is safe for young adults, with mild fantasy violence.  I highly recommend both the Ballard Chronicles and the Aielund Saga as excellent examples of epic fantasy.

About the Author

Stephen Nowland's Website

I was one of those kids who daydreamed his way through school. All the little adventures I'd concoct in my mind were far more interesting than math or tests or sport. Somehow, I passed the important bits (art and english) and moved on, but always with a creative perspective to my life.

It was around 1992 when the magic of reading really sunk into me, for it was then I discovered fantasy novels. Feist, Salvatore & Eddings showed me worlds that fired my imagination, and from that point on I knew I wanted to write the stories that flitted around the recesses of my imagination.

Unfortunately, I spent most of the next fifteen years dealing with poor health, including resultant chronic fatigue syndrome which interfered with my life immeasurably, but gave me ample time for thought. An abortive attempt to create a story happened around 1996, but I look back on such things as stepping stones on the road to where I wanted to be.

My first complete novel was actually done back in '03, but it was a derivative work based on elements from other stories, something I didn't realise until after I'd written it. The mind can do funny things if you don't keep it on a tight leash! Still, there were some unique points to the story I kept, so I scrapped the rest and began a completely new for Neverwinter Nights, that RPG video game thing you may or may not have heard of.

The story was so successful (filled with rich, creamy character development) that I lamented that only people playing the game would ever see it. In 2009, with my health improving, I resolved to novelize the stories I'd written, in addition to developing the world in which they exist as the basis for a new fantasy series.

I consider those stories to be merely the first iteration of the saga, for my novels have evolved far beyond the original scope, in terms of detail, plot and character building. Looking back on it now, I can see my style has evolved a very long way from those humble beginnings indeed.

Oh, I also paint. You can expect to see more cover art with each title, becoming more technically sophisticated each time.


I have decided to review books that I enjoy. I am an avid reader of fantasy, so most of them will be in that genre. I'm not taking any requests, just reading what catches my eyes. You'll find that most of these are from Indie Authors. The way I figure it, David Eddings, Anne McCaffrey, Alan Dean Foster and Piers Anthony (my favorite authors) already have enough reviews, but Indies could always use a few more.

It is important to note here that while I am a writer, I am doing these reviews as a reader. I also know a number of the authors I will be reviewing. (I am friends with Mr. Nowland) This is not an exchange of reviews, nor have I been solicited by those authors to write the review.  If I don't like a book, I won't review it.

All my best,

John H. Carroll

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