Skies, THIS BOOK BLEW ME AWAY.
I’ve been kind of evil and have kept its goodness to myself these past 82013 months, but it’s finally time to share it with you.
YES, I CAN BE NICE. (I know you were confused about that.*)
Anyway, guys, I’ve found another favorite fantasy series. Because seriously: This is what fantasy was made for.
*And shouting it at you is definitely convincing. I should teach public relations classes or something. This strategy could really kick off.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.
An Ember in the Ashes was something totally unlike any other YA fantasy book I’ve ever read. Or even heard about, really.
It’s hard to believe Sabaa Tahir is a debut author. It’s that good.
“Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after. Such moments are tests of courage, of strength.”
Our story revolves around Laia, a Scholar girl desperate to save what’s left of her family, and Elias Veturius, a soldier…and maybe more. And GUYS, this Elias fellow…he was amazing.*
YA gentlemen can be as unique and flavorful as burnt, cut-out cookies…with half the personality and nO SPRINKLES.** I mean, we all love them (even burnt cookies are good? just crunchy??) but excuse me when I say, there’s some clear
archetypes recipes among these…crunchy…cut-out…sprinkle-beraved…COOKIES.***
*I mean, his looks don’t hurt either. BUT WE’RE GOING TO TALK ABOUT HIS ACTUAL CHARACTER RIGHT NOW, SO FOCUS.
**No sprinkles?!? I’M AGHAST AT MY OWN IMAGINATION.
***What do you mean I’m getting carried away
I present to you, the recipe cards:
1) The Broody Warrior-Hero: one tablespoon salt, three cups rudeness, and a sprinkle of steel. Bake until black and burning. (Common cookie outcomes: Four, Divergent; Rowan, Throne of Glass)
2) The Best Friend (hello, love triangle): ½ cup Justified Anger™, two tablespoons self-righteousness, and a dash of unforgiveness. Bake until the cookies’ edges are crisp but be sure they remain soft and smushy inside. (Common cookie outcomes: Gale, The Hunger Games; Mal, The Grisha Trilogy; Kilorn, Red Queen)
3) The Fun-Loving Prince: 2 cups sugar, a sprinkle of sarcasm, and one teaspoon of your spice of choice. Bake until golden brown. (Common cookie outcomes: Nikolai, The Grisha Trilogy; Dorian, Throne of Glass—first book only *coughs politely*)
4) The Sassy, Morally Ambiguous, Dark-Haired Fellow Who Can Rock Some Black (Also known as THE BEST): 1 cup black food dye, 1 cup salt, 3 tablespoons cyanide, ¾ teaspoon citric acid. Bake until no longer recognizable as a cookie. (Cookie outcome: KAZ BREKKER. The one and only)
And while I love all these gentlemen—cookies???—Elias is different. Like Kaz, he refuses to be categorized—(if you didn’t notice, Kaz had his very own recipe for a reason AHEM AHEM)—but unlike Kaz, he doesn’t do it by walking the line between hero and villain. He does it by mixing all the types together. AND IT’S CRAZY AWESOME. He’s callused and tragically raw at the same time; there’s conflict going on inside of him as well as conflict outside what with the plot and other characters. And all those conflicts reacting together? They don’t just enrich Elias’ character alone. They enrich the story itself and add to its complexity in seriously brilliant ways.
So we have a delicious cookie here, guys. Elias was such a skillfully developed character that he felt like the true lead. His POV didn’t feel like it was stuck there just to interact with Laia’s (who we’ll get to in a second cALM DOWN) and his character never felt forced into the story so there could be a love interest. He belonged on the page.
Now for our Forefront Female Protagonist I Wish Wasn’t the Lead But Is. Dear, dear Laia. Her character was the only one I could find fault with. It wasn’t so much who she was that bothered me. She actually has a personality I wish was more common among YA heroines: she doesn’t flaunt her strength, and she doesn’t even have it at first. She’s normal, she’s human, she’s weak; but she grows. My problem was that her growth didn’t always feel natural. This pops up more in A Torch Against the Night, where it feels like we literally skip over some crucial character development, but there’s still enough of it here to bother me.
The development of every other character, though, was SPOT. ON. Everyone interacted with each other with such believability, and it was rare and beautiful to see so many friendships on the page. And then there’s Helene, guys. I’M NOT EVEN GOING TO TALK ABOUT HER SHE’S THAT GREAT. She deserves to be discovered all on your own. (Please appreciate my silence, I love talking about her. WHAT I DO FOR YOU INTERNET PEOPLE)
Now that I’ve practically written an essay about the characters in Ember, we can move on to like, the actual plot.
So if you read the little italicized blurb above, you probably have a good basic idea of what An Ember in the Ashes is about.* You don’t need to know anything more except that:
1) The story was more layered** than I ever could have thought
2) There were also about 6 million conflicts that pulled at each character. Elias wasn’t the only one with a battle inside: each main character was at war with themselves while fighting man or nature outside. Or both. (This author likes to torture us can you tell?) It was insANE how much was going on at once
3) I was stunned by every devious little plot twist (then again, I’m as oblivious as a blindfolded bat so that may have played a part…MAYBE)
4) The rude little book had me squirming and screaming and ripping my hair out (my family probably thinks I’m insane but it’s okay they already know the truth)
5) It was so fast-paced I had to stop and catch my breath once or twice
6) It was fantastic??
7) LIKE REALLY FANTASTIC??
8) LIKE BETTER THAN HOMEMADE CHICKEN PARMESAN??***
As far as I know, those are all signs of a super-fabulous plot.
*You also deserve this piece of cake as a reward for you through reading. Here.
**You know, like that piece of cake I gave you
***Why am I obsessed with food
If I had to pick one thing Sabaa Tahir did the best, though, it would be writing. There was not one amateurish mistake, not one fumbling dialogue, not one sentence that didn’t flow right. Her tone was unique and her storytelling was extraordinarily skillful; her descriptions fit perfectly with the world she had created. Scenes were written with an artful balance of utility and rich description. I devoured every word.
Tahir’s skill in worldbuilding, as well, was magnificent. With the help of the Gladiator soundtrack, her world was revealed slowly, fluidly, and effortlessly. It felt distinctly like Ancient Rome, which pulled me in all the more. (Maybe that had something to do with Gladiator, no?) The Martial Empire was a world completely different than any I had set foot in before and it charmed me to no end. There were some aspects of the world that I found cheap, but I could ignore them for the most part.
An Ember in the Ashes was a blazing, fiery read that was relentlessly cruel to my emotions. It had me reading for hours on end, caught up in the story.
I strongly recommend this one to the brave of heart.
Is it okay for me to read?
Language • • • • •
Some mild profanity. (D**n, h**l, ba*****d)
Violence • • • • •
Characters die in battle scenes and otherwise. Slaves are beaten and treated violently.
Sensuality • • • • •
Some kissing, unwanted advances, and innuendo.
Substances • • • • •
Adults drink at receptions.
For more about my content ratings and what they mean, click here.