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Ash: A Secret History is a 2001 Fantasy / Alternate History / Historical Fiction / Science Fiction novel by Mary Gentle. The story follows a 15th-century female mercenary captain, Ash, as she gets involved in literally world-changing events. It's long, Doorstopper-long; at 1,100 pages, it's often billed as the longest single-volume fantasy novel.

It can also be found Divided for Publication in four volumes in U.S. paperback printing: A Secret History, Carthage Ascendant, The Wild Machines, and Lost Burgundy.


This work contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Go ahead, take a rough guess.
  • Alternate History: Although somewhat inverted, in that there is no past point of divergence. Rather, the end of the novel is a point of convergence.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Happens a few times to Ash and others.
  • Convenient Miscarriage: Ash miscarries hers and Fernando's child while in a Carthaginian dungeon.
  • Covers Always Lie: Ash is named for her white hair. Now look at the Redheaded Hero on the cover to the right...
  • Curse of the Ancients: Discussed, with the editor settling for translating Ash's swearing as modern four-letter words in order to retain its shock value.
  • Divided for Publication: For the American printing; the original UK publication was single-volume.
  • Fictional Document: The historical narratives being translated and polished in the Framing Story by the historian Pierce Ratcliff.
  • Framing Story: The book is supposedly the work of historian Pierce Ratcliff, who is piecing together the story of Ash from historical documents. Interspersed in the inner story are correspondences between Ratcliff and his editor as the story related in these documents begins to diverge from known history.
  • Golem: The Carthaginians have them. This is one of the first clear signs that this isn't our history.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Ash has facial scars inflicted by her rapists when she was a child, but they are described as non-disfiguring, even making her look more impressive.
  • Hearing Voices: Since puberty, Ash hears a voice in her head telling her which tactics to use to win battles. She thinks it's the voice of God. It turns out to be the voice of a Carthaginian war computer that she has been specifically bred to hear.
  • Jeanne D Archetype: Ash is in some respects very much like Jeanne d'Arc, including hearing voices.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: the book is supposedly what Pierce Ratcliff, the historian who's piecing together Ash's history or legend, is writing for publication. Interspersed in the work are snippets of Ratcliff's private notes and correspondence with his editor.
  • Private Military Contractors: Ash's mercenary company, made of soldiers from all over Europe.
  • Rape as Backstory: Ash, aged 8, is raped right at the beginning. She kills her attackers.
  • Shown Their Work: Gentle completed a master's degree in war studies as research for the book, and it shows.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Florian/Floria
  • Translation Convention: The characters speak in reasonably modern English, including cursing, as a deliberate stylistic choice to make them more approachable and understandable.
  • White-Haired Pretty Girl: Ash herself.
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