An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir — 5 out of 5
Yes. This. This is what I’ve been waiting for. This is the YA I’ve been craving since…man, probably since I finished The Hunger Games. Divergent was good but it felt a little too copycat to me. This takes everything I found so “meh” in Shadow and Bone and not only fixes it, but improves it. This…this is new. And good.
I was going to rate it 4.5 instead, but I can’t quite figure out what negative things I have to say about this book. So, what’s so good about it? I don’t even know where to begin!
Ok, let’s start where you would start while reading this book…the beginning. We come across this new world, told from the perspectives of Laia and Elias. And this world unfolding before us? It is harsh. Tahir does not pull punches in the brutal reality of the city of Serra, which is reminiscent of Ancient Rome. It is classist, with instances of abuse, rape and torture. Readers witness a brutal murder right at the beginning of it all. Basically, the threat is real. I was actually worried for Laia, Elias, and the many others. That hasn’t always been the case in other books…things sometimes seem too easy. Not here. All that to say that this is a strong backdrop to a compelling story.
Then there’s Laia and Elias, our two perspectives for the book. They are incredibly well developed. In fact, all the characters are. Not to sound like a broken record, but that’s another thing I find so rare in YA. I never get to say that none fall flat, that they were all memorable. Yes, Elias was hot and capable and caring, but he’s still 20 years old, and makes mistakes 20 year olds make. And Laia! Laia isn’t a special snowflake female protagonist!! I could just shout it from the mountaintops. Laia starts out as a little sister compelled to run away from danger, and she grows! She doesn’t start out with much strength, but she definitely finds it as she learns to overcome her fear.
I could go on and on about the characters. Helene is a badass female fighter that doesn’t lose her femininity. The Commandant is one of the most frightening, crazy antagonists I’ve ever come across, which another reviewer correctly labeled as “psychobitch.” And Keenan…*swoon*. Redheads hold a special place in my part, and they’re rarely ever included as an actual love interest! Needless to say, I loved every passage that included him.
As you may have guessed from the names I mentioned, there are two love triangles happening here, but I can assure you they are handled in the best way possible. It isn’t trite or riddled with ‘instalove’ and, bonus points, it never distracted from the big picture problems that the characters were facing. Ultimately, each of these characters are primarily dealing with their own personal conflicts, and romance occasionally slips in at appropriate moments. In addition to these character-related issues, we already have glimpses of what they will have to face in the future, those unifying battles that make any individual struggles fall by the wayside in the attempt to fight for the one big cause. I find this to be a relief, because I can’t stand when series take on a whole different story when this new focus comes into play. Allegiant, I think, is the perfect example of this. All that to say that I think this is a promising start with a seemingly strong and purposeful direction to the storyline.
As for the writing, Tahir is a pro. Her imagery is beautiful, her pacing perfect. Although I can get annoyed by multiple perspectives (*cough*…Allegiant again…*cough*) I think it adds a lot to the story. Though the intentions of a soldier can be good, they can look very different to a slave, and vice versa. It added so much more dimension to the interactions of the characters!
I think that’s enough gushing for now. I’m just so happy to have come across some good YA again. I want to go back and reread and relish it, but the next book is calling. Still, in my humble opinion, this is the next Hunger Games. Maybe my “longstanding love affair” with YA was never really at risk. I just needed to come across some good YA. I’m sure glad I came across this.