REVIEW: The Unflinching Ash by Angela Armstrong

Title: The Unflinching Ash by Angela Armstrong
Pages: 353
Published by: NORSOU Books
Publication date: 12th July 2021
Genre: Young Adult/Historical Fiction/Fantasy
Format: eBook
Amazon UK


In a world like ours, Mystics once ruled the night. Well, so long as they were men. On Ash’s day of naming, she chose the Mystic path nonetheless. The same illusions that garner gasps of awe from the lamp-lit crowds earn her scorn from the basilica. There is only one way forward: a perilous quest – earn the Queen’s Seal, a badge of honour, and immunity. She’ll simply have to avoid being hanged, burned or drowned first.

My review:

The Unflinching Ash is a brilliant and richly-developed fantasy world that explores one woman’s determination to fight for her – and other women’s – freedom and independence. The author draws inspiration from true events like the Salem witch trials so parts of the story are harrowing with that in mind, but it’s a powerful and compelling story overall.

It’s set in the fictional land of Mórlough and follows seventeen-year-old Ash who is a Mystic; she performs death-defying stunts to win over crowds. While there are male and female Mystics, female Mystics are treated much more differently. Any female Mystic who is seen performing is branded a witch and killed for it. Ash has spent her life running and hiding, and craves the freedom to perform without being branded a witch and hunted by the church. To do this, she has to win the Queen’s Seal on Queen’s Day, as this will grant her protection and allow her to perform without fearing for her life. We follow Ash as she evades capture, attempts to win over lords and ladies, and work towards winning the Queen’s Seal. 

Ash is definitely a woman that we could all look up to. I loved that she wasn’t just doing this for herself, she wants women everywhere to be able to do what they love without fearing for their lives. She doesn’t shy away from danger and her own acts are death-defying as she literally stakes her life on her performance. You can see the toll it’s taking on her being a Mystic at times and how much it affects her knowing she’s putting her family in harm’s way, even though she acts like nothing is wrong. However, despite how hard it gets, she picks herself back up every time and carries on. Her fierceness and determination to win the Queen’s Seal propels the story forward. 

We’re also introduced to Ren, a male Mystic who proves to be a worthy opponent for Ash. There’s a little romance between them throughout but I appreciated that it didn’t completely take over the story. Despite having feelings for Ren, Ash puts her own needs first. There’s so many other books I’ve read where the main female character is swept off her feet by a man and forgets everything else, so I loved how Ash stayed true to her character. I did really like Ren though and thought they had great scenes together. He’s very understanding and supportive of Ash and her choices. Even when he offers to help her win the Seal, he understands when she says she has to do it herself. After all, she wants to change the game for female Mystics and it would undermine everything if a man helped her do it. 

Another aspect of the story I enjoyed was that we had the family’s perspective. Ash has a sister who is married and expecting her first child. While she loves Ash, she also worries about her own future and whether she’ll be judged by others because her sister is a witch. It was interesting to see how Ash’s choices affected those around her and no matter what she did to protect them, they’d always be caught up in it, whether Ash wanted them to be or not. Ash is also following in the footsteps of her parents, who were killed for being Mystics, and her sister doesn’t want the same thing to happen to Ash, but she understands why she needs to do this. 

I don’t read many books about magicians and illusionists so this was a refreshing and unique read. I loved how a female Mystic was at the heart of the story, but that it’s about so much more than magic. It’s a fight for survival and to prove women can be just as great as men. The author says in her Afterword that she wanted to show that women can wield magic the same way as men, and that definitely comes across in this story. I highly recommend it. 

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