Hello, all! Welcome to the weekend!
In just three days, one of my most anticipated reads comes out. It’s called A Torch Against the Night, and it’s the sequel to one of my favorite reads this year, An Ember in the Ashes. Only, I never actually reviewed Ember, so I figured I might as well do that now. Without further ado, here is my review of An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir!
An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1) by Sabaa Tahir
Published by Razorbill on April 28, 2015
Genres: young adult, fantasy, romance
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | IndieBound
I can’t believe I almost didn’t read this book. Because I loved it, and now I understand why this book is so popular. (Honestly, it deserves all the hype, because it gave me all the feels.) Sabaa Tahir, you have yet another fan.
Okay, so this is kind of a tricky category to review, as most of the book takes place in a military school called Blackcliff Academy, and it’s difficult to comment on a world we don’t see very much of. But I can tell you right now that what we do see is brutal, dark, and well-developed. Blackcliff is a terrifying place to be, with strict rules, a fierce, ruthless supervisor known as the Commandant, and awful punishments should you disobey.
It seemed frighteningly real to me, and that’s probably because it’s not sugar-coated. Sabaa Tahir doesn’t shy away from the torture servants and students face if they disobey or don’t live up to their superior’s expectations. People get hurt. Life is dangerous. Safety is never guaranteed, and Sabaa Tahir never goes out on a limb to save her characters; she lets them suffer the full consequences of their actions in this world.
I’ll admit that the whole Scholars versus Martials thing didn’t hold up as well as I would have hoped it to, but the realness, the grittiness, the ruthlessness of this world more than makes up for it. There’s a fun mythology aspect, as well as a rich sense of culture. I’m very excited to see more of this world in future books.
To me, this was the strongest aspect of the book. I always worry about dual-narrative novels, because I worry I’ll confuse the two narrators, but, here, that wasn’t an issue. Both Laia and Elias are well-developed, driven characters, strong and determined in different ways. I connected with them right away.
Laia reminded me of myself in a lot of ways. She feels clumsy and self-conscious, and she doesn’t necessarily see herself as well-poised or capable/worthy of certain things, but she’s not afraid to do what needs to be done in order to protect those she loves. And to me, that’s very realistic. This is one of the first novels I’ve seen where that insecurity and self-consciousness is balanced with a strength grounded in her determination to save her brother. It really makes her come alive as a character. She doesn’t spend all her time moping about how unworthy she is. She doubts herself, but then she proves herself wrong. I really like that.
And yet, as great as Laia is, I love Elias. He’s my baby, you guys. Elias is an amazing example of how to write a conflicted, sensitive, realistic male character without making him a pile of mush. He’s strong, but, like Laia, Elias doubts himself and his strength sometimes. His entire life, he’s been trained to be a warrior, but what do you do when you realize maybe the cause you’re fighting for isn’t a very good one? We see him struggle to figure out what it really means to be selfless, brave, and free, and if it’s possible to be all three at once. And it’s so interesting.
Also, Helene is really cool, as minor of a character as she is. I’m excited to see more of her in Torch.
By the time I actually got around to reading this, I had only two days to finish it before it was due at the library. During summer, this wouldn’t be a problem, but keep in mind I was still in school at this point of the year. So, less than 48 hours to finish an almost-450-page book, which didn’t include all the hours spent at school/doing homework/sleeping.
But it turned out to not even be a problem. Because I could barely put this book down.
I stated in the world-building section of this that Sabaa doesn’t spare her characters from the cut-throat world they live in, and that makes for a thrilling plot. The plot is always moving. These characters are constantly in danger and peril, and I was almost always worried about them: Laia as she tries to figure out how to rescue her brother while working as the Commandant’s slave, Elias while he tries to figure out who he wants to be and how to shape his future in a world that is not so kind to those who do not agree with its rules. Everything’s multi-layered, and there are several big surprises that are just brilliant.
The competitions Elias and co. had to go through gave me Hunger-Games-meets-Gladiator vibes, but they managed to be totally different and unique from anything else I’ve read. Sabaa doesn’t hold back in those, either.
This was so fun. It’s like a love triangle, but it’s also unrequited in some aspects? It’s complicated and messy and sometimes a little frustrating, but that’s part of what makes it so realistic, in my opinion. This is a great portrayal of I-might-like-by-best-friend-but-I’m-not-sure-how-the-heck-do-we-deal-with-it.
Also, Elias doesn’t turn into a puddle of goo like all these other YA guys I’ve been reading about lately do, which I appreciated. I love it when characters in couples compliment each other instead of fading together, and this was definitely a case of the former. I’m not sure whether or not I’d be spoiling anything if I mentioned any other names, so I’ll just say that the next book promises a very interesting dynamic in this category, for sure…as well as a very awkward one.
Overall, I would highly recommend this to anyone in search of a fun, thrilling fantasy with well-developed characters and some great lessons on what freedom and bravery really mean. Can’t wait for Torch!