BOOK REVIEW: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes is Tahir’s debut novel in YA Fantasy. Since its publication in April 2015, it’s received so much praise that it became a NYT Bestseller and was optioned for film. And because of its success, Tahir fans have demanded a second installment. Lucky for us, her publisher agreed.

Seriously though, this was a fantastic debut that truly lived up to the hype. Throughout the read, I felt the story nod toward other bestselling YA novels like The Hunger Games and Shadow and Bone, but the heart of Tahir’s story and characters was completely unique to her.

But onto the review…

NON-SPOILERY REVIEW:

An Ember in the Ashes follows the winding stories of two characters: Laia, a slave bent on saving her brother, and Elias, a solider who desperately wants freedom from the empire. There’s friendship, love, betrayal, action, intrigue, and of course we can’t forget brutality. I’m pretty sure this book has something for everyone to enjoy. Probably why it was optioned for film.

Tahir manages to sculpt this expansive, complex world with a rich history that is routed in both blood and mythology. Because she wrote in a dual first-person POV, we get every angle of the story: the slaves, the scholars (conquered people), the Empire, and the Empire’s underlings. We even get a taste of a much bigger conflict, which due to spoilers, I’m not going to put here.

The one thing that I absolutely loved about this book was the fact that every character had a backstory, motivation, and character arc. You see the painstaking, attention-to-detail, efforts of the author from page to page that has you invested in every character from top to bottom. And even though it is a fairly large cast, every single character is important. Tahir does a fantastic job at tying in each character thread that truly makes for a phenomenal read.

My only complaint was that sometimes the writing wasn’t consistent. There were moments that were absolutely breathtaking in gorgeous imagery. Then there were moments where the emotional impact was softened because the writing wasn’t pushed hard enough. Whether it was a ‘tell’ or a ‘cliché’, there were times where I wished Tahir had just pushed a little further to really make my heart break.

Granted, this is a VERY SMALL complaint in the grand scheme of my enjoyment of this novel. If it weren’t for the fact that everything else was so beautiful and impressive, I may not have worried too much about it. But you know how it goes, once you prove you’re capable of something, people expect that same level of excellence ALL THE TIME.

Overall, I loved this book and am anxiously awaiting the sequel. I’m excited to see where this series, and its author, go from here.

NOW STOP HERE TO AVOID SPOILERS!

STAHP!

DON’T DO IT!

SPOILERY FANGIRLING:

Can we just take a second to admire the incredible world Tahir built in An Ember in the Ashes? Seriously, from the rich history of the Martials and the Scholars to the culture(s) and mythology, the world building was top notch and probably some of the best I’ve seen in a debut fantasy. The cultural struggles and strains go far beneath surface-level, and I think that’s what makes this book so special and so incredibly impressive.

I’m not sure which bit of world building was my favorite, so I’m going to cheat and say that it was the way Tahir unpackaged the world. Each page brought something knew and complicated to world. We start out with just a simple conflict: Scholars vs. Martials. Then we get Resistance and its different tensions. And Tahir pushes the world further still with the Augurs, their long game, and the Nightbringer and his history.

With the world building alone, there was no way this could be a stand alone, and I’m so glad I didn’t read this book prior to the news that the publisher had picked up the sequel. I would have cried. A lot. That ending, the mystery of what the Nightbringer has planned, the romance(s), the still-unknown long game of the Augurs. I NEED MORE! MORE!!!!

Moving on, THE CHARACTERS! I know I said this in the above section, but I really am impressed by the fact that Tahir gave every character a backstory and motivation, not just with Elias and Laia but all the secondary characters as well. We even see a little humanity in Marcus after he killed his twin. And despite the absolute CRAZY the Commandant’s got going on, we even get a glimpse into her motivations. But in the words of Sherlock Holmes, I suspect there’s a larger game afoot, specifically with her tattoo and her connection to the Nightbringer.

I did sympathize more with Elias than I did with Laia, especially in the beginning. The first third of the book was a lot of character development and story set-up, which I had a little trouble trudging through. But the moment the trials started and Laia started working at the Commandant’s house, the pace TOOK OFF! The moment the Augurs got involved, I couldn’t put the book down.

Moving onto the writing because I mentioned it above. Overall, I found the prose beautiful and lyrical. Tahir manages to capture the very essence of humanity and lay the souls of her characters bare for the reader. But there were a couple moments where I wanted more from the writing. Specifically, the scene where Helene (who I LOVE because she reminds me of Liraz from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy) vows her loyalty to Marcus. This is a huge, heartbreaking moment for Elias, and I just needed more. I wanted to cry, to feel the heartbreak and the abandonment, but I didn’t. The moment came and went so quickly.

The only reason I’m even able to say the above is because Tahir brought us torturous scenes that were beautiful in their brutality. The scene where the Commandant carves that ‘K’ into Laia, for example, was incredibly intense and painful.

I’m so excited for the sequel, A Torch Against The Night, to come out (slated for August 2016). This debut was sure to be the start of a phenomenal and impressive career for Sabaa Tahir.

What about you? What were your thoughts? Leave a comment below so we can discuss!

January 2016 TBR

If you’ve read my 2016 Resolutions post, you know I’m aiming to read at least 50 books this year. In order to keep myself on track, I’m setting up monthly goals and keeping myself accountable by way of the blog.

So this is the first of 12 posts mapping out what books I plan to read during the course of the month. And without further ado, here’s my January 2016 TBR.

No 1. – An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Ember in the AshesThis YA Fantasy came out last year and has gotten fantastic reviews. It was on my TBR list last year, but I hadn’t gotten around to it. And shame on me because so far, this book is wonderful. I’m a third of the way through it now, and the stakes are so high for each and every character. Laia is a slave trying to save her brother. Elias, the other POV character, is a soldier for the Empire that has tormented Laia’s people. I’m so excited to see how their stories intertwine!

No. 2 – Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
PassengerAnother YA Fantasy and a new release from the talented author who brought us The Darkest Minds trilogy. Passenger follows the high-stakes adventure of Etta, a prodigy violinist with a mysterious family legacy, and Nicholas, a man who longs to escape servitude, as they travel through time to recover a stolen object. I’m so excited for this book. 1) Because I heard Bracken steps up her writing game dramatically in this book, so I’m excited to see what she does with the prose, and 2) TIME TRAVEL.

No. 3 – Steel Victory by J.L. Gribble
Steel VictoryIn this exciting blend of apocalyptic science fiction, fantasy and alternative history, Gribble presents a unique world where the Roman Empire is still trying to expand centuries after (in our timeline) it should have collapsed. Victory, a centuries-old vampire and [retired] mercenary, and her adopted daughter and warrior-mage, Toria, have to keep their home from being taken over by the Romans. I’m also halfway through this one so far (started before the New Year), and I’ve already spoken a little of my love for this world and the characters. But the entire cast is delightful, Gribble has done a phenomenal job at creating an entire culture unique to her series. The vampires, the mages, the elves and other were-creatures. She’s really gone through and mapped out the different tensions between the species as well as the political tensions on local and international scales.

No. 4 – Cruel Crown by Victoria Aveyard
Cruel CrownThis is a bind-up of two novels that predate the events that happen in Red Queen. For those of you who haven’t read this best seller yet, it takes place in a world that divided by blood. The Silvers have special abilities and rule over the Reds. The Reds are human and don’t have abilities, and are basically pawns in the Silvers’ war. In Red Queen, we learn that Silvers aren’t the only ones with power anymore, but they’ll do anything to keep that secret from getting out. Though I did have some issues with RQ, I really enjoyed the pace and the twisty plot (and holy beautiful fight scenes), and I’m thoroughly excited for the sequel, Glass Sword, coming out next month.

AND LAST, BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST…

No. 5 – Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
TruthwitchGuys. Guys. Guys. I can’t tell you how excited I am to jump into this book. I’ve been waiting for this book for… MONTHS! Yes, definitely months. I read the first chapter in Susan’s Newsletter a while back and instantly fell in love with Iseult, a threadwitch, and Safiya, a truthwitch. They’re best friends, witches, and are on the run from people trying to get their hands on a truthwitch to use as a pawn in the struggles between the empires that rule their continent.

I’m starting off 2016 with some serious rockstar books. I don’t know how the rest of this year of reading will unfold, but I’m excited!

Happy Reading!

2016: A Year For Moving Forward

I guess it’s that time again, for that obligatory post on New Years Resolutions. Don’t get me wrong, I am not above creating my own resolutions. After all, I am, at my core, a goal-oriented person. But I think there’s something very flawed about the idea of only self-reflecting on what we want out of life once a year.

But for shits and giggles, here’s my post from last year on the resolutions I had for myself. 2015 RESOLUTIONS!

Overall, I did a decent job at my resolutions for 2015. The only place I got tripped up was beginning to query. I’m not upset about this one because I had a lot of learning to do as a wordsmith in order to get GUARDED polished and ready to go.

The good news: I now have the skills to write a seemingly enjoyable book. The bad news: I had an epiphany about a week ago that ended in me adding a second POV to my book. So before I can polish and send this manuscript off, I need to rewrite four chapters in the new POV, as well as draft 13 additional new chapters.

It’s going to be a lot of work, but if the changes I’ve seen so far are any indication, GUARDED’s going to be far better for it. If it’s not, well, I’ll pry be back here for 2017 Resolutions, spouting about some new problem I’m having with the same book.

::head:desk::

Moving on…

I did read more! Granted that wasn’t hard to do given my measly tally of six books for 2014. In 2015, I read a grand total of 26 books. For books new to me, I read one fantasy, 16 YA fantasy, four YA contemporary, and two nonfiction. I also reread the Song of the Lioness Quartet because tis my favorite.

So while I do have plenty of goals lined up for 2016, the two I’m actually going to list and focus on are:

  1. Finish GUARDED and begin the querying process. The query’s done and set and vetted. Now I just need to get those additional chapters written and the rewrites done then I can send the MS off to slaughter. WOOT!
  2. I have vowed on Goodreads to read 50 books this year, so that’s the goal. Side note: should probably learn to use Goodreads properly…

A lot happened for me in 2015, some good that I was sure to share here on the blog, some not so good that I kept to myself. I’m looking forward to 2016 hopefully being better than last year. I’ve got a lot planned for the blog, and I can’t wait to share all of it with you!

Happy New Years, Everyone! And happy writing!

Bath & Body Works Book Tag

 Another lovely tag from the talented Nicolette at A Little Bookish, A Little Writerly. You can find her awesome list of reads on her blog, here.

And since I have some books I’d love to gush about myself, here’s the post.


Pure Paradise – A book that was pure perfection A Darker Shade final for Irene
A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab. I know I said this in my book review but this book legitimately had EVERYTHING I’ve ever wanted in a fantasy novel. Magic, Intrigue, Betrayal, Suspense, and OH MY GOD, THE PACING! Not to mention the incredibly elegant prose with which Schwab writes. It’s all just so… BRILLIANT!

 

Sweet Pea – A romance/contemporary you really enjoyed
My heartMy Heart And Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga. This book. I don’t read a lot of contemporary or romance, but the stuff I do, I need to be complex and beautiful and have an epic-level character arch. This book was all these things, along with a carve-my-heart-out realism that had me going through all the feels. There is a trigger warning of suicide with this one, but I highly recommend picking this up. Warga does a fantastic job at tackling a difficult and complex topic.

 

Fresh Strawberries – A book you really enjoyed that came out this yearRed Queen
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. I enjoyed a LOT of books this year, and there were a lot of fantastic new releases (a lot that I haven’t had the chance to read just yet). But Red Queen was the first new release for 2015, as well as a debut, and I was really all around impressed with it. The writing, the incredible fight scenes. Mind you I’m a total sucker for twisty plots, but Aveyard does a great job at laying the ground work for her twists that makes them both surprising and expected. They’re the kind of twists that have you smacking yourself because you should have seen them coming. I’m really looking forward to seeing where the series goes.

 

Warm Vanilla – A character and/or book that made you feel all warm inside
HOF CoverHeir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas. I know this is an odd choice for “Warm Vanilla”, but I promise there’s a good reason, though it is incredibly personal. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know I spent 2011 in Iraq and struggle with PTSD as a result. During this book, Celaena confronts a lot of her own demons, things that have been weighing on her shoulders, things that have made her doubt/hate herself. This book gave me the safe place I needed to process emotions I hadn’t had the courage to deal with before. So as Celaena healed throughout the book, I was able to do some healing of my own. Here’s the link to my book review.

 

Paris Amour – A couple you majorly ship together 79329_original
Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas. I’m sure this comes as no surprise to anyone, but AELIN AND ROWAN. ALL DAY. EVERY DAY. I don’t care what you Celorian shippers say, Rowan is my ultimate ship for Aelin. He’s her match in every way. He understands her without judgment and loves every bit of her. I want one. Can I have one? Someone find me one. Please? Here’s the link to my book review.

 

Dancing Waters – A book that takes place on the beach/ the perfect beach read
Bridget Jones DiaryBridget Jones Diary by Helen Fielding. To be fair, it’s the only book I’ve read that can be considered a “beach read.” But this book is HILARIOUS. The voice, the constant failings of the MC. It’s all a fun, ridiculous story. Plus it’s a loose Pride and Prejudice retelling. What’s not to love?

 

I Heart Cake (and Books) – your favorite bookLioness Rampant
The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce. I know, I’m totally cheating. I don’t care. I can’t pick an individual book in this quartet. They all just fit together so nicely. You should really just read them all in one sitting… But seriously, this series is the reason I’m a writer. The protagonist has ambition and doesn’t let anyone, even a love interest, get in her way. It’s an incredibly progressive book in terms of how a young woman addresses life and love, but you know, in a fantasy setting. *high-fives young feminists everywhere*

 

Winter Candy Apple – A book set during Christmas or winter
Winter-finalWinter by Marissa Meyer. I know, I’m cheating here too because it’s not set in Winter, it’s set ON THE MOON! But I figured the title counted enough. Plus there’s the whole thing where there’s also apple candies in the book, so this totally fits. Anyhoo, if you haven’t picked up the Lunar Chronicles series yet, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! This series is incredibly expansive, and Winter is the most brilliant, well-done finale I’ve read in a LONG TIME. Seriously. Meyer covers all her bases in this book and ties up ALL the loose ends. She also does a fantastic job at keeping the pace consistent. There’s no lull. There’s no here-let-me-cramp-in-all-the-answers. It’s just incredibly well done. Writers, take note. That’s how you end a series.

 

Beautiful Day – A book with an unusual / interesting / appealing setting220px-Bloodline2005
Bloodline by Kate Cary. It’s set during WWI, and is a sort of a continuation/spin off of Dracula. It’s also told in a series of journal entries from all characters involved, including the antagonist. Need I say more?

 

Dazzling Diamonds – A beautiful cover
GatesOfThreadGates Of Thread And Stone by Lori M. Lee. So in order to REALLY get the full scope of how gorgeous this book is, you have to take off the dust jacket. Not only is the dust jacket impeccable, giving us our MC, her world, AND her ability (she can manipulate the threads of time), not to mention the title text is GORGEOUS, BUT the actual hard cover IS PRINTED! That’s right, undress the cover and you get a city scape. The words inside are also fantastic. Lee’s writing is deliciously detailed and the action scenes and the way she writes Kai’s ability makes you feel like you’re fighting a boss in a video game. I don’t know how she does it, but it’s spectacular.


If you’ve read the above books, I’d love to here your thoughts! As for the lovely book bloggers I’m going to tag…

*Reaches into massive fishbowl*

*Pulls out paper*

Kelly @ Stellar Scrutiny Book Blog

Ember @ Literary Constellation

Charley @ BooksandBakes1

Crystel @ Where Is Crystel

HAPPY READING!

BOOK REVIEW: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Holy Hera. Where has this book been all my life?!

A Darker Shade of Magic is the first book in a new fantasy series written by V.E. Schwab. It follows the misadventures of Kell, the last of a unique breed of magician that can travel between different dimensions. The London’s of each dimension differ based on their relationship with magic, and when magic from a darker realm hitches a ride to another, Kell’s life plummets into chaos.

But seriously, THIS BOOK! From cover to gorgeous cover, I enjoyed every word of it. The concept, the characters, THE WRITING. All of it was fantastic. And unique. And gorgeous. And brilliant. And ALL THE AWESOME ADJECTIVES!

Onto specifics though…

NON-SPOILERY REVIEW

Let’s start with the writing. The best way I can explain the “feel” of this book is to call it a classic fairytale with modern pacing. The elegant narrative is in a close third from multiple POV’s that gives you the most intimate view of both the plot and all the major players.

Schwab also doesn’t hold any punches. Once Kell makes that first misstep, he keeps on tripping, all the way to the end. Anything that can go wrong, does, and it keeps the plot brilliantly paced, always sprinting forward.

I have to confess that this is my first time reading Schwab, and a quarter of the way through ADSOM, I realized that I would follow this author anywhere, to whatever genre she chose to take on. The writing, the STORYTELLING, is THAT GOOD! So many things go into what makes a good book for me. Concept, Characters, Plot, World, and Writing are the main five. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve fallen in love with books that hit three of the five. But this book had EVERYTHING. The multiple Londons, the way magic worked, the elegant prose, the fast-paced plotting, the complex set of characters, ADSOM was everything I could have ever wanted in a fantasy novel.

I feel like I should clarify here that I think most books are lovable, but writing is a subjective art. And when I judge a book based on the five criteria’s I mentioned above, it’s more on a dial and less of a straight yes or no. So when I say that I’ve loved books that hit 3/5, it’s more so it maxed out those criteria.

But anyhoo, back to the review. Stop here if you don’t want spoilers!

SPOILERY FANGIRLING

So I guess this isn’t really a spoiler as it’s the first thing you see of Kell, but THAT COAT! I love the coat. I want that coat. And the fact that Schwab opens the story on the coat immediately throws us into the deep end of her world.

“What? You didn’t know this was a fantasy? Well, now you do! Hope you can swim!”

Okay, it wasn’t THAT abrupt, but you get a quick sense of the world and Kell, all within the span of the first couple pages. BRILLIANT!

Side note: There are bound to be numerous Brilliant’s in this section. SORRY!

Moving on, I love how complex Kell is. Much like his coat, Kell has multiple sides. Prince. Ambassador. Antari. Smuggler. And Schwab captures each every one of them beautifully. She also illustrates how important subtle urges like “belonging” are. From Kell’s relationship to his brother, Prince Rhy, to his complex camaraderie with fellow Antari, Holland, and even his affinity for smuggling tokens across London lines, we understand quickly that Kell is searching for that thing/place/person that makes him feel “home.”

Then he meets Delilah Bard, who is one of the most clever characters I’ve had the pleasure of reading. She’s a thief, but she’s far from stereotypical. She has an aspiration to see the world, any world, and have an adventure. She doesn’t want charity and doesn’t really want to be a thief forever (though she does want to be a pirate). Thievery is a means to an end for her, a means to get out of the slums of Gray London. Then she picks Kell’s pocket and finds an adventure that she’s not 100% sure she’ll survive.

The dynamic between Kell and Lila is a brilliant one (told you). Lila gives Kell that sense of “belonging” that he’s been searching for, and Kell is a promise of adventure for Lila. But my favorite thing about their relationship: IT’S NOT ROMANTIC! Their mutual respect and camaraderie has NOTHING to do with sexual attraction or romance and IT IS MY FAVORITE!

Also, Lila outsmarts Kell at nearly every turn. She sees things so complexly, and we see how with the stone. Where Kell simply calls it “bad magic,” she recognizes it as “clever.” And I think this is an important distinction between the two characters, not only setting them up for future plotlines, but also to show how they balance each other. Kell is intelligent, yes. But Lila is cunning. And the two of them together is, yes I’m going to say it again, BRILLIANT.

Another side note: I can’t tell you how excited I am for A Gathering Of Shadows (ADSOM #2 coming in February 2016)! If only because I’m fairly certain Lila is also Antari. She’s missing an eye but doesn’t remember how. We know there’s magic in her, but the telltale sign of the Antari is the singular black eye… Miss Schwab, what do you have planned?

Moving along to antagonists, the Dane twins. I LOVE how Schwab sets these two up. Okay, I love how she sets up all her characters. She shows their motivations immediately upon meeting them, which allows the reader to spend the story guessing what that character will do or how far their power reaches. And I LOVE the fact that we see the undoing of Danes in their first scene as well. The fact that they lead by force, that little detail, is what costs them Holland and the black stone in the end.

GAAAAH!!! IT’S ALL JUST SO BRILLIANT (5)!!!

So there it is, my review for the INCREDIBLE A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab. If you haven’t picked up this book, DO IT! DO IT NOW! If you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts below!