Book Review: Girl of the Ashes by Hayleigh Barclay. null
Girl of the Ashes by Hayleigh Barclay. null
Categories: ,
Disability Representations: ,
Published: October 8th 2020
Page Count: 270
Scotland 1897. Three hundred and fifty years ago the Inservium overthrew the government of a remote town in northern Scotland and for over three centuries the Phoenix vampires have faced persecution. Eighteen-year-old Elise de Velonte is now caught in a war which threatens to wipe out her entire bloodline. Between hunting and killing the corrupt Councillors of the Inservium, and fighting against an ancient curse which is tearing apart the families of her coven, she blurs the lines of love and hate to become a warrior and survivor. Girl of the Ashes has the YA fantasy appeal of Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments) and Richelle Mead (Bloodlines, Vampire Academy). Like these books, Girl of the Ashes mixes the magical world with our own and focuses on a female lead trying to negotiate growing up with the burden of saving those she loves.

When a request pops up in my inbox for a vampire novel set in Scotland, by a Scottish and featuring a disabled character, there was no doubt that I was going to have to check this book out. Girl of the Ashes was also recommended for fans of two of my favourite urban fantasy authors as well. The question is, was it as good as it sounds? You can see my star rating above, so you know the answer to that already, 😉 Read on to find out more!

I am also thrilled to be able to bring you an interview with Hayleigh Barclay, author of Girl of the Ashes, for GeekDis, my collaborative event for the disabled community to discuss disability in pop culture!

This book was provided for free by the publishers in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to the publisher for the opportunity to review Girl of the Ashes!


Content Warning


There are scenes of violence and physical abuse, mentions of torture, and reference to the treatment for hysteria (lobotomy) as was common in the 1900s.

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First Impressions

An urban fantasy novel set in Scotland, written by a disabled Scottish author, and recommended for fans of two of my favourite YA authors? I didn’t think this book could sound any more awesome – but there’s also disabled representation as well?! Yes, there was zero hesitation from me in accepting this request 🙂

I am most intrigued by a couple of things mentioned in the synopsis. First we’ve got the Inservium who sound positively terrifying, and then there’s “Phoenix Vampires”. I love different vampire mythos and the ways that individual authors add their own ideas to the pre-existing mythology, so I’m really curious to know whether “Phoenix” is just a name or something more. Since the name of the book is Girl of the Ashes, there’s a bit of a suggestion to something more there…

Then we have an ancient curse. All good stories have ancient curses that mess things up, in my opinion! They’re the type of thing that always lead to good character development because they either can’t be broken or they require something truly spectacular or virtually impossible to break them. I wonder what it will be in this one?

Book Review: Girl of the Ashes by Hayleigh Barclay. null


I found myself falling in love with Barclay’s prose from the very first few pages. The book begins in present times, setting the scene at the end of our anti-heroine’s story, and then she takes us back to the beginning of her story. I found Elise to be an easily likeable character, but I have a penchant for characters who are free spirits and who don’t care what people think. As we learn more about Elise, it becomes clear that she’s had a difficult life and her few fleeting moments of happiness have been snatched away from her. She’s a far cry from the Elise we’ve met briefly in the present day, and this just draws the reader further into the story as the mystery of her story is unravelled piece by piece.

Girl of the Ashes is a familiar story in a way; it’s a story of a young woman trapped in circumstances beyond her control and desperately doing anything to fight them. It’s one that I recognised, and I think a lot of readers will too. I don’t know whether Barclay intended for there to be any metaphors, but I couldn’t help comparing Elise’s struggle with the Inservium with the disabled community’s struggle with the Government. Her feeling of helplessness, her constant fight to get out from under their control, and her need to break the power they have over her. Perhaps I’m looking a bit too much into it, either way her plight felt familiar to me.

When Elise finds out that she’s a member of a powerful family of vampires, the situation changes, and at first she’s not sure whether that’s for the better. Learning that you’re actually a vampire is never an easy pill to swallow, and right on top of that revelation are a whole lot more – including that it’s time to go to war with their ancient enemies the Inservium again, and she’s caught up in an ancient curse too! In most young adult novels, the protagonist usually dutifully accepts all this with information with some mild exclamations, and then off they go to save the day. Not in Girl of the Ashes! I appreciated that Barclay writes an authentic character who takes one look at the vampires around her and starts edging towards the door!

There are a lot of scenes in Girl of the Ashes that feature this honest, down to earth frankness, and many of them feature three particular characters; Elise, Natashka and Mhayree. Both Natashka and Mhayree are older Phoenix vampires who, in very different ways, teach Elise about who and what she is. Natashka is a disabled vampire who became paralysed in an accident and becomes close friends with Elise. They quickly develop a rapport, exchanging banter and laughing with one another like best friends do. Mhayree is a friend of the family, and more like an aunt, and her ice-cold sassiness is just fantastic.

The disabled representation in this book is, as I expected, spot on. Wheelchair users in 1897 were uncommon, especially outside of hospitals and asylums, and Barclay carefully includes this information in her story at relevant moments. It doesn’t feel like she is overloaded the reader with information because she’s not, she lets the story flow and feeds the historical facts in at the right moment. What I noticed in particular was the room that was given to Natashka and her movements as a disabled person and the language used to describe her movements. Additionally, scenes included other characters doing things that she was unable to do, such as placing items on the ground. There was no awkward explanation or dithering around the subject, it was just done because Natashka’s friends helped her to do it. Just as someone would do for their disabled friend in real life. Overall, the entire disabled representation in Girl of the Ashes felt more genuine than I’ve seen in books and that is the difference that the lived experience of a brings to disability representation. 

As for the Phoenix vampires themselves, all I will say as this is a spoiler free is that you will not be disappointed. The lore that Barclay has created is beautiful, chilling and visually stunning. It is an absolutely wonderful addition to vampire mythology that has such a remarkable origin story.

Book Review: Girl of the Ashes by Hayleigh Barclay - My book review for the young adult vampire novel Girl of the Ashes by Hayleigh Barclay.null


I was captivated by Girl of the Ashes from start to finish and thoroughly enjoyed following Elise’s story. Girl of the Ashes ends in a way that works for a standalone novel or sets the scene for a second book. I am hoping very much for a second book because I want so many more tales of the Phoenix vampires, their family and their companions. I want more tales of Elise and Natashka, and other people that I can’t name! 

Hayleigh Barclay. null
Meet the Author

Hayleigh Barclay

Hayleigh Barclay (b.1987) was born in the west coast of Scotland where she currently still resides spending much of her day being bossed around by two Scottish Terriers. She obtained a BA (hons) in Broadcast Production from the University of the West of Scotland in 2009. After taking a year out she gained an MA in Creative Media Practices from the same university, focusing on script writing, directing and producing for film, TV and radio. In 2011 she undertook a Doctorate of Fine Arts at the University of Glasgow where her thesis investigated how 19th century Gothic vampire literature influences contemporary Goths.

Basically, she knows a lot about vampires!

From a young age she aspired to be a Spice Girl but her family were thrilled when she decided to give up that dream (considering she cannot sing!).

Her debut novel, Girl of the Ashes, written as the main part of her thesis, will be released October 2020.

An avid disability rights campaigner, she has championed issues related to education, travel, and media representation.

You can browse her books on Goodreads. Or connect with her on social media; she’s on Twitter!

Books by Hayleigh Barclay

Interested in more books by Hayleigh Barclay? Check out a selection of titles in my store.

Over to you

Thanks for reading my for Girl of the Ashes! If you would like to know more about Hayleigh Barclay or Girl of the Ashes why not check out my interview with her as well? 🙂

Hayleigh also has a Readalong organised for Girl of the Ashes. It starts on the 1st October and is going to have loads of behind the scenes gossip and other goodies. If that sounds like your sort of jam, then head over to the Big Bite Readalong on Facebook!

Don’t forget to check out the rest of my reviews if you’re looking for some more book recommendations 🙂 You can also now sign up for my newsletter to get an email each month with a list of my new reviews!

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