I was so excited to read this book! And why not? The cover is gorgeous, the plot intriguing, and oh, the hype! I really enjoyed watching the book community rally around Sabaa Tahir, and quickly elevate this book to a MUST READ! But, that being said, when I finished An Ember in the Ashes I came away feeling….undecided.
Did I like the book? Absolutely. Did it leave me with burning questions and haunt me for days after reading? Not really.
What I liked:
Sabaa Tahir did so many things well in this book. She is a fantastically talented writer, and I look forward to more from her in the future! An Ember in the Ashes is written from the dual perspectives of Laia, a Scholar slave, and Elias, a Martial training to be an elite assassin. Tahir moves between their stories effortlessly. The characters are so well developed, that even if the chapters weren’t labeled accordingly, there wouldn’t be any doubt who’s POV we were reading.
What I loved most was that every single character was strongly written and well fleshed out, even the secondary characters. You walked away feeling that you knew Cook, Izzy, and Keenan just as well as Elias, Helene, or Laia.
The Commandant is scary guys. JUST SAYING.
The World Building
As a product of her environment, the world of Ember is equally as terrifying as the Commandant. The Empire Is broken into the Scholars and the Martials. The Scholars are a conquered people living under the iron rule of the Martials. The Martials train their children to be assassins, carrying out the will of the Empire. Horrifying thought, right? The only confusing part for me was that some Scholars were slaves while others lived free. But Ember’s world is so much bigger than that. We are briefly introduced to the land of Marinn and the Tribal deserts that boarder the empire as well.
Tahir fills Ember with vivid imagery and expertly weaves in touches of folklore and mythology until the world becomes a living breathing thing that jumps off the page.
What I found really interesting is that Tahir didn’t fall back on the expected romantic plot devices. Was there a love triangle? Kind of. It was more like a quadrangle….rectangle…. diamond? Each of the main characters had more than one love interest. Elias had Helene and Laia, but Laia had Elias and Keenan. Laia and Elias never made sense to me. I was, and still am, firmly entrenched in Camp Helene. She’s his girl, mark my words. I also liked that Tahir kept it clean.
What I did not like:
There’s not much. It was a rough read in terms of the wanton brutality of the Martial class. I can’t count how many times I read the word rape. It wasn’t a pleasant aspect of the book or the world.
Tahir did a pretty good job of tying up all the loose ends while still leaving you with a WHAT HAPPENS NEXT feeling. There was only one part of the book that I didn’t feel was tied up in a neat little bow by the end. Midway through, we are introduced to a…..ally of the Commandants. She calls him by a certain title and we hear a reference to him in one of the stories told to Laia. We get the idea that this ally is the one behind the scenes, pulling the strings, yet we never really hear anything more.
All and all, I did enjoy this book. I was very fond of Elias and Helene. Their strength and honor were very appealing to me, as was their tried and true friendship. The world had a brutal beauty that was equally horrifying and mesmerizing. And while it didn’t necessarily leave me wanting for more, it’s solid!