Book Review: The Trials of Ashmount

(Author’s Note: I am keeping this spoiler free, so there are many details that I have hidden to keep from giving away the plot or ending.)

The Trials of Ashmount is an academy where magicai are discovered, educated, killed, feared, or worshiped. People come across the five countries to see if they have a trace of magicai or collect a handsome sum of money to thank them for their life-changing travels. They can grant those with the trace access to the trials at the school but at a high cost. Hundreds must face the deadly terrain of an active volcano with tests that grind you down to the bone. To make it worse, people willingly come to find out if they have this highly sought trace, aware that the magic comes at a cost. Their life. All of this on top of a war brewing within its mists.

Series: Tragedy of Cedian (book 1)

Indie author, John Palladino

My rating 4.8

John Palladino’s debut novel, The Trials of Ashmount, is a promising grimdark novel with vivid descriptions, background, characters to die for, and plenty of bloodshed and severed limbs to make the darkest heart happy.

Why Read The Trials of Ashmount?

This book is not for the faint of heart. It is an obstacle course unlike any other, filled with political intrigue and power struggles. An academy smack dab in front of an active volcano; it is no wonder the trials are as dangerous as the volcano that towers over them. An enthralling and sinister world of daunting challenges and unforgettable faces filled with a palpable sense of dread. John Palladino takes you for the ride of your life with characters and places you never imagined possible, especially working together. You might even root for someone you are completely against. He does this by making each character relatable. Every character will possess a quality that can be recognized or echoed by others. Even if you hate them with every fiber of your being, you know what it is like to have or witness this feature in your life, or at least hope you never do.

I thought it would be a cool story. Despite my expectations, the vivid sensorial descriptions of the events, the wonderful character development, and the emotional rollercoaster of death completely captivated me. I loved it. It is a due-or-die maze of twists and turns. You think you have it all figured out, but then the rush of excitement and uncertainty throws you for a loop.

Reading books that bring the characters’ emotions to life, I find myself shouting in rage, crying in sorrow, and chuckling wickedly. With a level of interest that can be felt immediately from the first line, this book captivates its readers.

“He pissed himself.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t start a story like that and not know what happened. Imagine your friend or someone you know just saying this and stopping. What would your reaction be? Excuse me, he did what? Why? Who the hell is he? Where did this come from? At least, these were my first thoughts; before you knew it, I was a hundred pages in and already too deep to turn back. Then two hundred, and it keeps going, and BAM! Just like that. I am a fan.

Before you continue, I must warn you that some characters you get attached to may be short-lived. John Palladino shows you a cast of characters that may be marked for death even before the pages of the book turn. If there is a list of potential deaths, you are about to go on a whirlwind adventure of tragic or pleasing demises. It ironically makes me think of the infamous line by Lord Farquaad from the Shrek movie “Some of you may die, but it is a sacrifice I am willing to make. (“Shrek (2001) - IMDb”)” This rings true with The Trials of Ashmount. I didn’t expect this going into it. It was a book I had contemplated getting for a while. However, I like really gory books. Consider if they wrote Saw as a novel instead of a movie franchise; you’d get this book.

I’m drawn to The Trials of Ashmount, always searching for clues to fill in the blanks. Horror fans will be pleased with the violence and bloodshed, but the characters are what make the story special. To know each character so completely that I root for them, no matter the totality of their plan or demise. The hell that pops off around them drives them to or from their goal. You want them to win. You want them to lose. The idea of death is always nearby, making it hard to trust in any relationship. The prospect of magic at a cost is intriguing. We found out just how worthwhile it is to be a magicai. You don’t always get what you want. This is clear from the beginning.

Are There Drawbacks?

It is from the point of view of five different people. Multiple points of view can be challenging to pull off. It takes work to make five unique characters enjoyable. Switching points of view can often throw a reader off and even turn them away from the rest of the reading. This is one problem I have with multiple points of view. However, John Palladino does this with expertise, switching at just the right moment to keep up, holding on and wanting to know more only to show us more of another character we also want to know more about.

The world is constantly changing, creating a fast pace storyline. Challenging the characters even outside the trials makes you wonder if they will get in or out alive. We get to know who the characters are deep down through these expeditions. Some know more than they know themselves and can see their downfall or rise before they do. This isn’t a straightforward story, but it’s a series of tantalizing hints that unravel over time, leaving us wanting more. A world full of magic, war, rivalry, betrayal, nihilism/existentialism, and tragedy/happiness is not for the faint of heart.

I wouldn’t consider there to be any drawback to this book. The only ones I can identify besides basic grammatical errors are based on perception. There are errors in every book, regardless of the level of expertise in writing. These errors may only be detectable by the trained eye and do not impact the pace or captivation of the writing. If you like grim, dark, and multiple points of view, this book is for you. Or you may find this book outside the norm you have been waiting for.

Final Thoughts

I love the 360 journeys of the trials. There are so many questions, and you will want to know more, and the suspense holds you straight till the ending.

What happens to those with the trace? What is it like as a student? Does the trace automatically allow you entrance into Ashmount? What happens to those inside its walls? What dark secrets lie ahead?

With every page, The Trials of Ashmount kept me hooked, with a thrilling journey full of suspense and heartfelt moments for all the characters.

This book was full of darkly funny moments that made me feel tingly with amusement. Through all the strife, gore, and misery, there is humor. The comedy you don’t expect as it creeps in just as you are in the bowels of the depression or loss of a character, but not too much to overshadow the seriousness of the characters' battle. It releases some tension, allowing you to stay for the ride instead of springing into the highs of emotion and plummeting to the floor. You’ll want to throw the book and keep it within your tight grasp simultaneously.

This book is an adrenaline-filled ride you won’t want to miss. Writing such a complex world and its characters is a fantastic feat, especially for a debut Indie author. You need this book on your TBR list or as a gift to a favorite Grimdark fan. So, what are you waiting for? Hurry and purchase this book. You don’t want to miss this story.

To grab your own copy of The Trials of Ashmount click on one of the links below.

Signed Edition:

To keep up with John Palladino and what he is doing next, follow him on Facebook and Twitter @agrimbastard.


“Shrek (2001) - IMDb.” IMDb, 18 May 2001,

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