"In First, Become Ashes K.M. Szpara takes the truism that "anyone can join a cult" and manifests it into the very construction of the book's plot and prose. Switching between the narration of three members of a magic cult (with varying levels of belief in said cult's core tenets) after its dissolution, alongside the narration of one outsider who desperately wants to believe in magic, K.M. Szpara crafts a world whose fact and fiction can only be parsed as far as our narrators can be trusted. Throughout the book I was constantly questioning what was and was not "real" in Szpara's world—and what things lie in the murky middle between the two.
From the very first line Szpara's prose is a hook behind your navel, dragging you into a complex web of (possible) magic, trauma, and queer love and desire. I was caught on page one, but even after finishing the book (in less than a day!), I remain on Szpara's lure.
TW: indoctrination, abuse, self-injury, pain infliction, graphic depictions of sexual abuse and assault."
K. M. Szpara follows his explosive debut novel Docile with First, Become Ashes, a fantastic standalone adventure that explores self-discovery after trauma and outgrowing abusive origins over the course of an American road trip.
The Fellowship raised Lark to kill monsters.
His partner betrayed them to the Feds.
But Lark knows his magic is real, and he’ll do anything to complete his quest.
For thirty years, the Fellowship of the Anointed isolated its members, conditioning them to believe that pain is power. That magic is suffering. That the world beyond the fence has fallen prey to monsters. But when their leader is arrested, all her teachings come into question.
Those touched by the Fellowship face a choice: how will they adjust to the world they were taught to fear, and how will they relate to the cult's last crusader, Lark? For Kane, survival means rejecting the magic he and his lover suffered for. For Deryn, the cult's collapse is an opportunity to prove they are worth as much as their Anointed brother. For Calvin, lark is the alluring embodiment of the magic he's been seeking his entire life.
But for Lark, the Fellowship isn’t over. Before he can begin to discover himself and heal a lifetime of traumas, he has a monster to slay.
First, Become Ashes contains explicit sadomasochism and sexual content, as well as abuse and consent violations, including rape.