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!