An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Publication Date: April 28, 2015
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
I WILL TELL YOU THE SAME THING I TELL EVERY SLAVE.
THE RESISTANCE HAS TRIED TO PENETRATE THIS SCHOOL COUNTLESS TIMES. I HAVE DISCOVERED IT EVERY TIME.
IF YOU ARE WORKING WITH THE RESISTANCE, IF YOU CONTACT THEM, IF YOU THINK OF CONTACTING THEM, I WILL KNOW
AND I WILL DESTROY YOU.
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.
What I Liked:
This book has a lot of hype surrounding it, and usually, hype turns me off. A lot of reviewers have read this book and LOVED it. There has been plenty of interest in this book for months. I featured it months ago, in December, as a "Waiting on Wednesday" pick, and it was pretty popular then. I was honestly terrified that I would be utterly disappointed by this book, because of the hype. Fantasy is my favorite genre, but the hype is a big turn-off for me. Thank goodness that wasn't the case with this book.
Laia's brother Darin was taken by Masks of the Empire, and thrown into jail for allegedly working with the Resistance (which he wasn't). Laia finds the Resistance, convinces them to find a way to help Darin, but that means she'll have to work as a slave for the Commandant of the Blackcliff military academy. Elias is a student there, the finest of the rest. And he wants to desert, just after graduation. But the Trials are this year, and he, his best friend (and only female in the academy), and two of his archenemies are chosen to participate. Whoever wins becomes the new Emperor. Laia has to pretend to be an obedient slave girl while risking her life to get information to the Resistance. Elias has to pretend to want to win the Trials, while trying to stay alive at all. Both will need each other more than they realize, if only to stay alive, but also to change the ways of the Empire.
The world-building and setting of this book are the first things I want to comment on - woah. You have to read this book to really experience it, but the world-building is so intense. I honestly can't think of a better way to describe. Well-written, rich, powerful, intense. The entire book is intense, and you feel like you have to hold your breath the entire time, but in the best of ways. Tahir masterfully created the world of this book. I've never read anything quite like it - there were some qualities similar to Pierce Brown's debut series, with the brutality. This book has plenty of adult crossover appeal. I've seen the Rome-like comparison made when referring to the world - that is a very accurate comparison! Even the names are Roman-ish.
The story is so intense. I'm going to keep using that world. I've never read anything that FELT quite like this book did. Rather, I've never felt as tightly wound as I did while reading this book. It was almost difficult to read, because I kept holding my breath, waiting for the Commandant to chop off some of Laia's fingers, or disfigure her face, or for Elias to get caught in his original plans to desert, or him getting caught by just being himself - not cruel and heartless enough.
I really liked Elias. He hates the academy, and what he has become. He hates watching one Yearlings die for stupid reasons, for trying to desert. He wants to be free, to live his life, and not to be a pawn and a weapon to anyone. Elias is very smart, very strong, very talented. He pretends well, but many can sense that he does not want his place at Blackcliff. Nevertheless, he is a fierce warrior. We get to see Elias's first person point-of-view every other chapter, between Laia's.
I liked Laia a lot. She isn't a warrior, a hardened soldier, a seasoned spy. She's a girl whose brother was taken from her - her only family. She's desperate and selfless enough to subject herself to the mercy of the Commandant, and she pays for it over and over. Laia is smart, and learns quickly. She is full of life and feeling, and isn't broken at Blackcliff. We get to see her first person point-of-view, alternating with Elias's.
Both character undergo immense character development. Both characters have to come to terms with terrible actions, with the past, present, and future. Elias faces awful tasks for the Trials, sometimes being for to kill his comrades. Laia lives in fear of being tortured by the Commandant, and of her brother being executed. She dare not make friends at Blackcliff, lest the Commandant use them against her. Laia makes incredibly difficult decisions throughout the story, and becomes more sure of those decisions by the end of the book. The same goes for Elias.
The romance is weird. There is romance, but I can see the makings of a love triangle. Yup, don't be fooled by the alternating points-of-view. That doesn't automatically mean there's your pair. I don't like the idea of a love triangle in this amazing book, but the thing is, the book was SO GOOD, and the romance was so secondary... it's hard to hone in on only the potential love triangle. Also, notice how I'm saying "potential". I don't know. But it still bothered me (see below). In any case, I'll be shipping Elias and Laia from now until kingdom come. They didn't fall in love and have a deep relationship and blah blah blah cliches, but they definitely have an attraction, and care for each other, and I'd like to see this relationship grow.
The story is awesome and terrible and powerful all at once. I say "terrible" as in how-dare-you-play-with-my-emotions-Sabaa-ahhhhhhh-omg. This is one of those books that constantly has the potential to break your first, from the beginning. One of the protagonists dies? One of the protagonists is imprisoned? One of the protagonists is in trouble? Sure, these are all possibilities. Which makes this book so intense. Again, intense. And amazing!
The ending is... fair, ish. There isn't a cliffhanger, and I suppose you could end this book in such a manner, and have no sequels... but this book would be even better if readers knew that at least one sequel would follow. We don't know this. So, the ending is good, but I would like it more if I knew there was more to come. If this book ends like that and there is nothing to follow, well, then this ending isn't the best (in my opinion). How can so much about the Empire be left to readers' imaginations? No no no. The author resolved nothing, in terms of the Empire and the Resistance. And the romance - I'd prefer it more solid. There has to be at least one more book.
What I Did Not Like:
Like I said above, there are the makings of a potential love triangle. Which pisses me off. Why ruin a perfectly amazing fantasy novel - totally creative and original - with a love triangle? Of course, not everyone sees a love triangle as "ruining" a book, but that's my personal opinion. I don't particularly like this love triangle either. Notice how I don't mention a third character. I don't care for him. It's not that I don't like him... well, I don't like him as a love interest. So. Cliche.
Also, in general, the whole training and academy and bloodthirsty leader of the academy thing is getting a bit worn out. A lot of fantasy novels are featuring some sort of game or contest in which contestants are seriously tested, and have to do terrible, impossible tasks that are meant to break them. And then at the end of the book, the game is in an uproar because of the resistance. I'm not even spoiling anything. This is a common plot skeleton I've been noticing over the past year, in YA fantasy novels. Grrr. It's a great plot arc, but it's getting to be a bit overused, in my opinion.
So while I found the world-building and setting utterly original and intense, there still were plenty of cliches in this book. Let's not forget that pesky old love triangle.
Would I Recommend It:
YES. I don't care what faults I found in this book. It's so so so good and I totally recommend it to fantasy and non-fantasy fans alike. You'll want to read it in one sitting, like I did (there's no way you'll be able to rip yourself away, anyway). It will hit you hard and make you want more!
4.5 stars -> rounded down to 4 stars, because of the potential love triangle, cliches, and the open-ish ending. I wish we could know now if there will be another book! It matters to my rating! Also, there needs to be a second book in general, rating or not. I need my questions answered!
Was this review helpful? Please let me know in the comments section!
PREORDER SPECIAL: Amazon has this book for $2.99!
I raced to read this review once I noticed it posted & YAY, 4 stars xD I've heard nothing but praise about this one, I don't think I've seen even one negative review about it.. happy that you enjoyed it. I hate love triangles in books but I think the author might be able to pull it off - wonderful review!ReplyDelete
<3 Benish | Feminist Reflections
YAY! Thank you, Benish! And right?! I haven't seen any either! I really hope you read and love this one (despite the potential love triangle) ^_^Delete
This book looks different! I just finished an ARC of Powerless by Tera Lynn Childs and Tracy Deebs and it was very different as well. Creative concepts! Thanks for sharing!ReplyDelete
You should give this one a shot, Andrea! And thank you :DDelete
YESSSS!!! Intense is good and I just cannot wait to get my hands on this one!! NEED!!ReplyDelete
And I'll just keep the potential love triangle in mind so it won't bother me as much if I've been warned about it.
Let's keep our fingers crossed and hope (and demand!!) a sequel too!!
Great review Alyssa!
I'm quite sure you will enjoy this book, even with the makings of the love triangle, Pili! I really, really hope there will be a sequel. THERE MUST BE ONE.Delete
YAY! Hype can be so scary and I'm always afraid a book will disappoint me because of how much everyone else likes it. I'm SO glad you liked this one! I've been waiting for it for awhile myself! BOO to the love triangle though. I don't like them in fantasy to be honest. I feel they have enough going for them, they don't NEED them. I'll still read this one because the worldbuilding blew you away and we'll just hope it doesn't turn into one!ReplyDelete
I hate love triangles in general, but especially in fantasy (because I love fantasy sooo much - why ruin it?! lol). The world-building in this book was insanely awesome. I hope you love this book when you read it, Jess! *nudges*Delete
I'm so happy you loved it too. I felt it was wonderfully done and I can't wait to read the next one (I'm going to go ahead and assume there will be another. HOW CAN THERE NOT BE?) There really has been a lot of hype and that is always nerve wracking. So happy it didn't let you down.ReplyDelete
Right?! It just can't NOT happen O_ODelete
And same to you, Kristen!
I hesitant to read this one because I don't like unanswered questions and a friend mentioned that there were a few of them in this book. I can't handle that without knowing that there's a sequel. I do really like the sound of Elias though! I'm glad you enjoyed this one even though you were scared of the hype! Hype can be a reader's worst nightmare!ReplyDelete
There definitely are unanswered questions... the only reason why they're not killing me is because I expect a sequel (LOL I demand it!). I think it would be nice to know if a sequel will exist or not though, like you said :/Delete
Thank you, Nick!
I have been seeing a lot of hype around this book and like you that doesn't really make me want to pick up a book straight away. But lately fantasy books have been really working for me, so despite you having a few issues I still do want to give this one a go! Thank you for your detailed and honest review Alyssa!ReplyDelete
Dude! Definitely give it a try! I'd say perhaps wait to see if a sequel announcement is made (there better be one lol).Delete
Thank YOU, Jasprit!!
I won't read this until a sequel is confirmed. I was really excited for this one Alyssa, but hoenstly I think it's bullshit for a publisher to finish (or not finish in this case) a book this way when they don't even have a sequel planned. It kind of feels like 'well if you want another book, this one has to sell well.'ReplyDelete
Hype scares me off too... and I hope they announce something soon because I know there's going to be an audio of this and I love listening to fantasy on audio. I'm glad you liked this one! Seems like most people do other than the non-ending issue :)
RIGHT?! I feel the same way! I read this one because it was killing me to have it on my shelf and not read it, but honestly, after reading it, I'm like THIS WAS SO GOOD GIVE ME MORE!! But more might not even happen -_-Delete
I really hope there is another book! And I hope you get to listen to it in audio... and the sequel hopefully! Hehe
Gorgeous review Alyssa. <3 I am so glad you liked this book :D I cannot wait to read it either. <3 Almost here :D But oh. I'm so sorry you had issues with the kind of triangle :( I know it will bother me too. And it makes me SO ANGRY already, ugh. As you say, why ruin a perfect book with a stupid love triangle? hah :) I don't get it. Hmph. Anyway. Thank you for sharing your awesome thoughts sweetie :)ReplyDelete
OMG you took the words right out of my mouth! I personally see love triangles as ruining good books, especially if it's fantasy. Grrrrr.Delete
Thank you, Carina!
Yay! I'm looking forward to reading this one. I'm weary of love triangles, so I hope I"m not put off by it. Great review :)ReplyDelete
I thought it was a stand alone? I'm confused by the comments about an open ending and a possible sequel...
Yep, the author wants a sequel, everyone wants a sequel, but Penguin only contracted one book. But if sales do well, then they'll negotiate for another book (or more than one, who knows).Delete
Honestly, this book NEEDS at least one more book to it.
I HAVE NO IDEA IF THIS ROMANCE IS GOING TO A BE A THING EITHER. But I loved this book tooooooo oh my gosh. Elias and Laia were totally badass and I agree with you on the whole character development which was just awesome :3 FANTASTIC REVIEWWWWReplyDelete
LOL RIGHT!? It's a bit bothersome... especially not knowing if there will be another book to the accompany this one.Delete
Thank you, Nikki!! <3
I'm so glad you loved this one! I've also heard a ton of hype for An Ember in the Ashes and am really looking forward to it :) I'm liking the sound of the character development and rich world building but am not so thrilled about the possibility of a love triangle. Just the idea of one puts me off reading the book, which is annoying, but I'm still super excited. Awesome review!ReplyDelete
Zareena @ The Slanted Bookshelf
I hear you about the potential love triangle. It's off-putting. But at the same time, it's very only POTENTIALLY in this book/series, so I'm holding on to hope that it won't actually exist.Delete
Thank you! I hope you enjoy this book, Zareena!