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!

The 7/7/7 Challenge: A Writer Tag

Nicolette Elzie from A Little Bookish, A Little Writerly tagged me in the 7/7/7 Challenge. The incredible featured graphic was also created by her talented self.

She saw this writer’s tag on John’s blog @ Am I Doing This Right, and because she has an addiction to tags, she passed it along. Check out the synopsis and excerpt of her current WIP, Dreamweaver, here. I’ve been lucky enough to read the first few chapters, and I can already tell I’m in for a FANTASTIC adventure. Where I’m at in the MS, the world feels like a cross between Shadow and Bone and Cinder. So if that doesn’t wet your appetite, I don’t know what will!

Please don’t kill me for gushing about your story, Nicolette! ❤

The 7/7/7 Challenge Rules:

  • Go to page 7 of your work-in-progress
  • Scroll down to line #7
  • Share the next 7 lines of your manuscript in a blog post
  • Tag 7 other writers (with blogs) to continue the challenge.

My current WIP, Guarded, is a young adult fantasy that I hope will appeal to fans of City of Bones and Daughter of Smoke & Bone.

Because I don’t want to give away any spoilers, I’m going to give you the pitch instead of the full synopsis.

Three years have passed since Kjersten Taylor killed her parents’ murderers by pulling all the water from their bodies. She hasn’t spoken a word of the incident to her twin sister, Chloe, and has even convinced herself that it was a hallucination, a product of Post-Traumatic Stress.

But when she begins levitating coffee at work, Kjersten can no longer escape the truth: she is one of six Aeons, manipulators of the natural world.

Her ability to control water makes Kjersten a target as the Council tries to round up the Aeons to drop the veil between the magical realm, Tearmann, and the rest of humanity. Before Kjersten can warn her sister, Chloe is taken hostage by the Council’s enemies, and Kjersten must wade into the brewing war and put her own life on the line to get her sister back.


And now the challenge:

I opened my mouth to speak but quickly shut it. I wanted to lash out, to scream about how my parents weren’t here, so their opinions didn’t matter anymore. I wanted to rant about the different things my father could have done to keep us together, to keep us safe. We could have moved around. We could have changed our identities. He could have hired bodyguards. There were so many could-haves, yet my father chose to stay and die.

His choices orphaned Chloe and me. His choices left me alone with this burden.

His choices left me mourning fourteen years of campfires and Tae Kwon Do lessons and water gun fights and Thanksgiving dinners. And mourning him.


I am currently on the last leg of this manuscript, polishing it up for querying early 2016, and I am beyond excited for how it’s turning out (and how it’s been perceived thus far – Nicolette, you are a saint!). I left poor Nicolette on a cliffhanger in the last section I gave her (SORRY!), but I’m just a few short days from having another completed draft. EEK! I can’t wait for the next read-through.

*clappy hands* Okay, I’ll stop rambling… Here are my victims. Sorry if you’ve already been tagged!

Hanna @ J.L. Gribble | Thoughts and Conversations On Writing, Editing, Life, and Cats

Aura @ Into The Imagination Vortex

Cara @ Geek Girl Senshi

Cait @ Paper Fury

Aine @ Writing on a Vintage Typewriter

Jesse @ Books At Dawn

Sarina @ Cookie Break

Of course, you don’t have to participate in the tag. Lord knows I have a long list of tags I have yet to get to. These are only meant to keep conversations going between bloggers, and who wouldn’t want that? Y’all are awesome!

Happy Writing!

BOOK REVIEW: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

The next three weeks are going to be devoted to the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor.

Never has a trilogy left me so conflicted. Overall, I truly did love this series, and I had a really bad case of the mourning’s when I turned the final page of book 3. But for as many things that I absolutely loved about these books, there were also things that had me second-guessing whether or not I would finish the series.

This trilogy is definitely a in-it-for-the-long-haul read. If you’re looking for something that will give you a quick resolution, this probably isn’t for you. You do get your resolutions, but Taylor makes you work for them.

BUT if you want an epically unique world to get lost in and explore, you need to pick up this trilogy. It is expansive and expertly developed and each character has his or her own needs/agenda.

So without further ado: My thoughts on Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone

NON-SPOILER-Y REVIEW

Daughter of Smoke & Bone is a YA Fantasy that takes place in Prague. The MC, Karou, already leads a spectacular life, having been raised by chimaera and traveling the world. But when angels start burning handprints into doors, Karou’s life gets a whole lot more complicated.

There are so many reasons to pick up this first book, but my top has to be the magnificent prose with which Taylor delivers the story. From page one, Taylor’s skills with imagery trap you in the story, and her characters are so vibrant that you feel like you’ve known them forever.

Taylor manages to write an epic-fantasy-level story while straddling the hum-drum human world, but even her human characters are far from stereotypes. She does a brilliant job at giving us fully developed characters from their first introduction as well as laying layer upon layer of mysteries and secrets for us to unravel throughout the series.

And that’s it for this non-spoiler-y section. Don’t read on if you don’t want to be spoiled.


SPOILER-Y FANGIRLING

Okay, so I said it above, but I’ll say it again. OH MY GOD, THE WRITING! NO, SERIOUSLY, THE WRITING!

One of the main reasons I absolutely adored this trilogy was Taylor’s incredible talent and skill with prose. Every metaphor, every visual, every description, everything was just ON POINT!

I loved how fearless and curious Karou was. Overall an incredibly compelling character. Actually, all of Taylor’s characters were compelling. Karou, Akiva, Brimstone, Zuzana.

Also, the world that Taylor creates is fully-realized from the get-go. So even though we have a BAGILLION questions, those questions are due to necessary built-in mystery rather than a lack of world-building.

And before I move on, did anyone else laugh hysterically at Brimstone’s “non-essential penis” line for days on end like I did? No? Just me? Mkay…

Alright, now for the not-so-fangirling bit.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVED this trilogy and will sing Taylor’s praises as a writer all day long, BUT I had a really big issue with the chapters of flashback post mid-point. It felt like I was moving along at a swift pace with Karou and Akiva, then suddenly, “We’re going to interrupt your current story for a massive interlude of backstory.”

That may have been a little harsh.

I do agree that we needed that information for the rest of the series. I just wish it would have been incorporated in a way that didn’t totally press pause on our girl Karou. Even though Karou is Madrigal. But still.

Like I said, I truly do love this story and the characters and the world and the writing. But for whatever reason, I am hung up on that silly flashback. *throws toddler tantrum*

What about y’all? What did you think about the flashback? Did you expect Brimstone to be using teeth to conjure chimaera?

Next Friday, I’ll be reviewing Days of Blood and Starlight, book 2 in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor.

BOOK REVIEW: Queen of Shadows by Sarah J Maas

THIS BOOK! Seriously guys, you need to read this series, if only so you can enjoy the epic awesomeness that is Queen of Shadows, book 4 in the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J Maas.

You can see my review for book 1, Throne of Glass, here; book 2, Crown of Midnight, here; and book 3, Heir of Fire, here.

Now for my thoughts on Queen of Shadows

NON-SPOILER-Y REVIEW

So much happens in Queen of Shadows that it felt both like a conclusion and a beginning, which I think speaks to Maas’s talent as a storyteller. She ties up a lot of loose ends, but also introduces some crazy new plotlines to press forward into books 5 and 6. We finally get to see Celaena unleashed in all her strategic glory, which you think you see what’s happening, but you’re just as blown away by it as her friends in the book.

Again, the world expands in this book, as does character development. You learn more about the stakes for each camp, and you also empathize with characters you didn’t think you could.

Lastly (because otherwise I’ll spoil all the things) THE PACING! Seriously. This book is crazy thick, but it NEVER lulls. EVER!

STOP HERE! STAHP!

DON’T SPOIL YOURSELF!

TURN AWAY!

GO READ IT! THEN COME BACK!


SPOILER-Y FANGIRLING

Like I said up top, SO MUCH HAPPENED in this book! I was curious what I was going to see from the characters back in Adarlan, but I have to admit, this book is my No. 1 for the year so far.

So let’s just jump in.

First off, we finally meet the infamous Arobynn Hamel, and he is just as sleazy and conniving as I imagined him to be. Though I anticipate we’ll see more the effects of his actions and deceit in future books, I loved seeing Aelin out-play him. This was one of those plot lines in the book that was so subtle but so gods-damned brilliant that when we finally learn the scope of Aelin’s manipulation, I was just in awe of her mastery. As was Aedion and Rowan.

Which brings me to the magnificent Lysandra. None of Aelin’s plan would have been possible without Lysandra’s help and connections. This new character (WHO I LOVE) was pivotal in the rescue of Aedion, retrieving the third Wyrdkey, deceiving Lorcan, destroying Arobynn, and saving EVERYONE’S ass in the final battle. She’s a strong, intelligent, compassionate woman who holds her own and is an incredible addition to team. Also, she turned into a snow leopard and puked guts on Lorcan… that in and of itself is fantastic.

**Let’s take a quick moment to discuss the phenomenal female cast in their series. None of these women need a man, or anyone, to save them. They survive on their own wits and strength, and are unrelenting in what they believe in. From Aelin, Lysandra, Nehemia, and Manon to Elide, Nesryn, Kaltain, and yes, even Maeve. Way to go, Maas, for creating the most intimidating, fierce cast of female characters EVER!**

Next up, Aedion. I know I gushed about him in my Heir of Fire review, but this poor kids went through a lot in this book. When it begins, he’s ready to die, then we have the epic heist-style rescue, followed by the adorable softness and affection he has toward his cousin. Granted this may just be my love for Rowan talking, but I think my favorite part of his role in this book was the evolution of his relationship with Rowan. He totally fangirls over Aelin’s relationship with Rowan in the beginning, but when he finds out Rowan took the blood oath, he goes the other direction entirely. But the two males come together and fight alongside each other in the end.

I’m really excited for how Aedion’s character continues to evolve throughout the story. I can’t wait to see how his paternity plays out in the grand scheme of things with Maeve and Gavriel. Plus, I really ship Aedion and Lysandra. The groundwork has been laid. It needs to happen.

Okay. Moving on to lesser than happy things.

So many feels for poor Dorian. He finally takes a stance against his father only to be enslaved by a demon, where he doesn’t even remember his own name. Absolutely heartbreaking. But I think he definitely needed this. He needed to reach a breaking point in order to grow as a character, so I’m not mad at what happened to him (I may be soulless… woops). I’m excited to see what comes of Dorian in the upcoming books as he tries to heal his country. There are so many ways Maas could go with this, especially since Chaol will be in another country and paralyzed. It’s the one plotline I can’t make a prediction for. Well, I do have one prediction… Manon. She’s already been his saving grace once. And with her going back to check on him at the end of book, I think their lines are going to intertwine some more.

*ANNOUNCER VOICE: AND NOW FOR THE MAIN EVENT, AELIN VS. MANON!*
This showdown was everything that I wanted it to be AND MORE! From the shade throwing (“Swords are boring.” “I couldn’t agree more.”) to the mutual respect (“You’re too good a fighter to kill.”), I was sitting on the edge of my seat, freaking out throughout this entire fight. All of the build-up in Manon’s POV in Heir of Fire was SO WORTH it. Side note: Chaol, you’re an idiot. Really? You’re going to go the wrong way? You’re supposed to know these woods! **Shakes head**

Before I begin on the epicness that was that final battle, I have to gush about Rowan. It’s not like you didn’t know this was coming. I’ve already announced that Rowan+Aelin=My OTP.

I may have already re-read the Rowan scenes… twice… From the moment Aelin runs to him in the alley to Arobynn’s dinner (17-yr-old Rowan wouldn’t know what to do with 17-yr-old Aelin. You’d probably scandalize him with your nightclothes. LOL) to him refusing to sleep with her because she’s needs to heal to “keep up,” I just had so much love for their relationship. I just really, REALLY pray that Maas doesn’t take him away from us. I need Rowan to not die. Please. Pretty please! The fact that there are still two books left in the series makes me really worried. *curls up in corner and rocks back and forth*

Okay. The battle to end all battles. Anyone else think that was the most epic final battle they’ve read in YA F? 1. It lasted FOREVER, 2. The constantly shifting POV’s ensured I never put the book down, 3. No one’s fate was certain.

Maas already proved in books 1, 2, and 3 that she had a talent for exciting, tension-filled fight scenes, but the ending battle in Queen of Shadows was on a different level. She never gave us a moment to relax because she would write from one character’s POV until they could very well die, then shift on us before we knew for sure. I’m pretty sure I was having a panic attack during the pages where Rowan thought Aelin was dying and Aelin thought Rowan was dying.

What about ya’ll? What was your favorite moment of QoS?