Published by Penguin on April 28th 2015
Genres: fantasy, romance, young adult
"An Ember in the Ashes glows, burns, and smolders--as beautiful and radiant as it is searing."—Huffington Post “An Ember in the Ashes could launch Sabaa Tahir into JK Rowling territory…It has the addictive quality of The Hunger Games combined with the fantasy of Harry Potter and the brutality of Game of Thrones.”—Public Radio International A worthy novel – and one as brave as its characters.” —The New York Times Book Review “Blew me away...This book is dark, complex, vivid, and romantic—expect to be completely transported.” —MTV.comA “deft, polished debut” (Publishers Weekly, starred review), Sabaa Tahir‘s AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is a thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and pulse-pounding read. Set in a rich, high-fantasy world with echoes of ancient Rome, it tells the story of a slave fighting for her family and a young soldier fighting for his freedom.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.From the Hardcover edition.
I received this book for free from Borrowed in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I did it. I fell into the hype.
An Ember in the Ashes was probably one of the most hyped books of the year so far, and admittedly, one of my most anticipated reads. Now, thinking back, I can’t even recall if I anticipated the book before all the big hype started crashing down really hard on the blogosphere and around the internet, or if I actually found my interest during the beginning stages of that. It can be a doozy–those marketing abilities sucking everyone in with their READ ME IT’S GOING TO BE THE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR I PROMISE. And then, before you know it, somehow, this strange hype-power flies around.
What really got me excited for the book was when the big words were said: …the next J.K. Rowling…
Well, those are some shoes to fill. You can’t just throw words around like that and expect me to NOT be curious. I think that’s what it’s about at this point with many readers. They want to see that most particularly for themselves. Or maybe that was just me. Haha.
Okay, back to being more on topic.
I should say something positive first…
It’s a standalone! Oh wait. No. It’s probably not. There’s very likely going to be a sequel (though it was originally led to believe to be a standalone, which I think was a large contributing factor to the hype). Hmmm. Well, I guess I did like Laia’s character in a lot of ways. Her determination and loyalty. I also liked that she wasn’t a straight-up fighter or had any secret or special abilities giving her some advantage from the beginning. She worked her way into becoming the character she fully developed into by the end. She came across fairly realistic in her situations. The writing also wasn’t bad. It was actually rather compulsive to read at times, when I was reading it.
But here’s the problem. I’d set it down, and not really care about picking it up for a while. A day or two could go by and I wouldn’t care. So that meant something to me personally. If I didn’t care about the desire to read the story at a constant pace, then there was not really a story to truly love for me. I didn’t even think about it when it was sitting on the table, half-read. Except when I did pick it up and start reading again, I did find myself immersed into the story and would find an easy hour or two going by. I couldn’t decide by the end if I really liked this book, or if I just found it more of a mild curiosity, to be honest.
I did have a lot of nitpicks along the way, though. (And don’t worry, I’m going to stay out of spoiler territory.)
There’s a serious lack of detail and it’s frustrating for a reader like me who loves a good visual. While the writing is solid and beautiful and easy to get into, it lacked the depth I personally love in most books like this. For a fantasy, I expected more. More imagery of the surroundings. Of the characters. A better explanation to some of the things that were a bit hard to understand. I couldn’t understand the Masks, especially. I couldn’t get in any way how they worked, how they would appear, all because I felt there was so much lacking in the details. I also really wanted more details behind how the tunnels were integrated into lands. They were mentioned so casually here and there, but I felt I just didn’t get a good visual of them. The few times I found the details done well were during the Trials, and for that I was a bit grateful because I don’t think I could have got through those without some good visuals.
The dual POV was not bad at all. I actually preferred it that way in the long run as it helped me get to know both Elias and Laia through it. Normally I dislike many dual POV books, because I’d rather not, and just stick to one character. But this worked. My problem with Elias though is a bit of a spoiler so I can’t talk about it in my review. And maybe something would happen in the sequel anyway. The side characters were nice– Laia’s friends, anyway, but once again… too many missing details and background I felt for me to feel any real connection to them. There is a slight “love square” that complicates things in a way, and it’s honestly annoying, but it’s not a heavy focus throughout the book so I liked that romance only played lightly for the entire story.
And then there’s my biggest issue with the book: I thought it was being marketed as being diverse? I’m having an internal battle with myself, wondering if I should even classify this as ‘diverse.’ While there’s a cultural diversity here with various mythical influences, and a few characters blending well to the storyline as they should, a majority of the characters were described as having white-blonde hair- one character had “flaming-red hair.” This didn’t scream diverse, in my opinion, but to each their own. I did like the general overall idea, or I wouldn’t have wanted to read it.
There’s a lot more I want to discuss about my likes and dislikes but then I would be getting into spoilers, so I’ll reserve that for private discussions only. 🙂
The ending definitely leaves off on a note for a sequel. Would I read it? Most likely. There’s a lot of unanswered questions about characters, besides the MCs, and I would hope there’s answers there. I just wouldn’t be in a rush for it now that I know this book had been a bit more over-hyped for me, and left me mildly disappointed.