Review: An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1) by Sabaa Tahir
When I first heard of this book, I was just as excited as everybody else to breathe the same air as An Ember in the Ashes. The cover was gorgeous, and the synopsis, intriguing. However, I read the synopsis so many times over the course of several months that I convinced myself the novel would be a disappointment. I thought I'd hate the book and be the black sheep, and so I never picked it up. Until one day I did...and it surprised me.
The first thing that hit me was how brutal the world Tahir created is. The setting was very dark and gritty, and it was very flinch-worthy. People do unspeakable things to one another, and it's brutal. The characters vary vastly in personality, and yet not a single one has any sort of lightness. The lines between good and bad is blurred, and you find yourself debating which category to place each character into. This backdrop, savage as it is, sets the scene for the characters as well as explains who they are, and also indirectly gets readers invested in the plot. Reading about the barbaric empire and its people makes it nearly impossible not to wonder how Elias and Laia will attempt to overthrow such an institution and root for them all the way. Once you start reading, you won't be able to set it aside.
When I first met the main characters, I wasn't exactly fond of them. They seemed a bit cliché, and I didn't feel that any of them were special. The further I went though, I realized there was something to them after all. For example, Laia is not one of those brave, fierce heroines we all like to read about. No, in fact, at the beginning at least, she's quite cowardly (and I say that lightly because I probably would have been just like her in a similar situation). When her home was invaded and her brother told her to run, she ran. When her family was threatened and her brother was asked to produce his journal, she didn't come up with some genius plan to protect the notebook and save her family - she told them where the journal was. Even as the story goes on, I wouldn't use the word brave to describe her. She was a normal girl who did what she did out of love and desperation, and her journey is an interesting one.
Elias. I didn't love him and I didn't hate him. He wasn't very brave, and he kind of sucked at talking to girls who were't Laia. But that's another story for another time. Soon enough I came to like him, but probably more because of how he behaved when he was with Laia than for any other reason. All he wanted was to run away from the institution and everything it stood for, but he stayed because of a promise that would cut all ties between him and the empire. Again, he was desperate. Nevertheless, both he and Laia were both different, better people by the end of the novel after all the trials the empire put them through, and I'm excited to see who they become in the next book when they're together and on their own.
What hit me as a bit unusual while I was reading was the double love triangle. Yes, I just said double love triangle, as in each main character gets his/her own love triangle. Weird, right? I don't know how she did it, but Tahir slipped it in under the radar and it's barely noticeable. When I took the time to think about the idea of a double love triangle, I was a bit shocked and had this confused look on my face; I credit that more to my preconceived notions of love triangles in general (times two) than anything else. When simply reading through Tahir's work and not taking the time to think too deeply on the notion, everything fits, and the double love triangle (DLT?) is rarely a bother.
There were several inhuman beings introduced in the novel, including and not limited to jinn (cool, right?). My favorite out of them all is probably the Augurs. Not only does the Commandant fear them - a feat unto itself - but they remind me so much of the Silent Brothers from The Mortal Instruments. They're not strictly good or evil, they foretell prophecies of a sort, they read minds, and they're kind of adorable (but maybe that's just me). I love that Tahir put them in the novel!
I'm so glad that I unknowingly waited to read An Ember in the Ashes until after the expected release of a second installment was announced, because I would not be okay thinking that the end of this novel was, well, the end. The last chapter is most definitely not stand-alone appropriate in my opinion. I want MORE.
Book Synopsis: 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.
Source: Received a copy from the publisher for review.