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Ash, A Secret History    by Mary Gentle order for
Ash, A Secret History
by Mary Gentle
Order:  USA  Can
Victor Gollancz, 2000 (2000)

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* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

Ash, A Secret History is an enormous sprawling epic of a fantastic mediaeval Europe. Ostensibly it comprises the correspondence between a historian, Dr. Pierce Ratcliffe, and his prospective editor, Anna Longman, enclosing instalments of his translation of various manuscripts related to Ash.

Ash is a female captain of a mercenary company in the fifteenth century, but she is not an ordinary mercenary, and is certainly an extraordinary woman. The descriptions of life in such a company at that time are very well done, and seem authentic, as does the military and political manoeuvering with which Ash has to contend. The other characters, those in her company and the historical notables with whom she becomes involved, are drawn with a sure and stylish hand.

The plot is complex,and includes the invasion of Europe by North African armies led by Ash's double. This enemy general has been bred to hear messages from a construct in New Carthage, which is in effect a tactical computer. The interplay between past and present, and the slow development of a logical basis for discrepancies in the historical record, are fascinating, and the denouement, though somewhat pat, is highly satisfactory.

However the book is primarily about Ash and her mercenary company, and if that had been all, a historical novel and not fantasy, A Secret History would still be a highly satisfying story.

Editor's Note:
Ash's story is also published in individual volumes - A Secret History, Carthage Ascendant, The Wild Machines & Lost Burgundy.

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