ARC Review: First, Become Ashes // Unnerving and unflinching story of trauma and healing

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Title: First, Become Ashes
Author: K.M. Szpara
Genre/s and tags: New Adult, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, LGBTQ+
Publication date: April 6, 2021
Content warnings: Sadomasochism, rape, sexual assault and abuse, torture, psychological abuse, manipulation, violence
Goodreads synopsis: 

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.

K. M. Szpara follows Docile, one of the most anticipated science fiction novels of 2020, with First, Become Ashes, a fantastic standalone adventure that blends pain and pleasure and will make readers question what is real, and what is magical.

Lark spent the first twenty-four years, nine months, and three days of his life training for a righteous quest: to rid the world of monsters. Alongside his partner Kane, he wore the cage and endured the scourge in order to develop his innate magic. He never thought that when Kane left, he’d next see him in the company of FBI agents and a SWAT team. He never dreamed that the leader of the Fellowship of the Anointed would be brought up on charges of abuse and assault.

He never expected the government would tell him that the monsters aren’t real—that there is no magic, and all the pain was for nothing.

Lark isn’t ready to give up. He is determined to fulfill his quest, to defeat the monsters he was promised. Along the way he will grapple with the past, confront love, and discover his long-buried truth.


Hello book nerds! It’s another tour stop day with Pride Book Tours! Today is my stop for the First, Become Ashes Bookstagram Tour! And again, for those of you who don’t know it yet, Pride Book Tours is an amazing bookstagram tour service promoting LGBTQ+ books. Go follow, support, sign up as a tour host, anything!

The featured book for today is First, Become Ashes by K.M. Szpara!

First, Become Ashes is an unnerving and unflinching queer SFF standalone meant to take you along on a rough journey about magic, trauma, and healing. (Make sure to visit me on Instagram to see my Bookstagram stop and the whole tour!)

My thoughts on First, Become Ashes

First of all, I want to say that I dove into this book prepared (well I tried to be). First, Become Ashes prefaces the readers with content warnings. So before I went ahead, I made sure that I was in the right mental space. Of course, that means I was also hesitant.

(Warning: Spoilers ahead! I’ll need to talk about specific details of the story to fully explain my thoughts.)

Now here’s my primary thought after reading the book: it was unique but also very unnerving. It was unique for me because it blended magic and the supernatural with modern society. And at the same time, it was unnerving because this book featured sadomasochism and sexual/mental abuse so graphically and tried to show that the process of healing and overcoming trauma is not an easy one. It was brutal and raw, and some scenes made my skin crawl, but damn if this didn’t take me on its own kind of journey.

The characters in First, Become Ashes were interesting and I loved that their different perspectives helped move the story forward and give it life. We have Lark who’s dedicated to the Fellowship, Kane who wants to save his partner/lover and friends, Calvin who desperately wanted to believe in magic—something bigger than himself, and Deryn who had always felt out of place and now wants to rebuild themself. They were all so different, and yet they were all in the process of confronting their trauma and achieving healing. That said, it definitely was not an easy road. (TW for the rest of the paragraph: sadomasochism, torture, sexual assault) As we read the book, we see how the Fellowship made Lark, Kane and the others believe magic was only about pain and suffering, that sexual assault was some sort of “blessing”, that outsiders either need to be saved or slain. And then, we see them try to deal with the reality of things in their own ways.

The plot was intriguing indeed, and sometimes it almost felt like an unbelievable true crime story. There were gruesome details and sexually graphic scenes that were disturbing enough to shake you to the core. Because of this, all throughout the book, I had to stop reading and take long breaks as a lot of scenes and information were a lot to process. I have to say, I wanted more in the ending though. I wanted to see more of Lark, Kane, and the others’ journey to healing, and I wanted to see the one in charge of Fellowship actually pay for their crimes. Still, I liked that it ended in a sort of a mellow, maybe even cathartic, note. Since this whole book was intense and filled with pain, and insecurities, and lies, the mellow ending was a stark, yet much needed, difference.

Another thing I adored in First, Become Ashes is how magnificently queer this book was. I thought it was freeing to see how gender and sexuality was handled and represented in this story. Lark never assumed anyone’s gender despite the fact that he met and encountered hundreds of people at such a short amount of time. We have Deryn, a nonbinary character, who immediately asked someone’s pronouns the minute they met them (and the person answering right back). And we also have other queer characters who, despite being minor characters, managed to add color to the story and even show that their gender was real and valid. (Lilian was nonbinary femme, and she was one of my favorites here in this book.)

After some time, I also realized that what astounds me is how the author wrote such a story and in such a way or plot that is not usually done. It will make you uncomfortable and it will bend your mind in ways you didn’t imagine, but it’s a story that will have an impact on you nonetheless.

Overall, First, Become Ashes is a terrific read that will unsettle you one way or another. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea for sure, and those who want to read this better prepare yourselves for quite a story.

Buy First, Become Ashes

Amazon | Book Depository | Bookshop | Barnes & Noble


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