My Rating: ★★★★1/2 ☆ (4.5 out of 5 stars)
Series: An Ember in the Ashes (Book 1)
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publication Date: April 28, 2015
Genre: YA Epic Fantasy
This book is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
The hype over An Ember in the Ashes is well deserved. It’s one of those books where you feel as if you can go without food or water for a few hours just because you need to know what happens next. Once I started, I needed to finish it. Sustenance could wait.
The main characters, Laia and Elias, were very likable, though complete opposites in terms of class status. It was very easy to root for them as they set out in their individual quests, encountering both great loss and pain, and brief moments of joy and love.
Elias is a conflicted Martial soldier who opposes the strict regime of the empire and wishes to be free from it all, even if it means parting from his friends and family.
“You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”
Laia is a Scholar whose brother is apprehended for treason; she is determined to go to great lengths to get him back.
“You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes.”
Though they have two very different motivations, their paths soon cross and they come to discover that they are not much different in how they’d like to live and be free of the Empire’s current regime. Their destinies are impossibly intertwined, and they are, simply put, embers in the ashes – sparks of life that will rise up and burn away the ties that hold them down.
There are so many great elements to this book. Tahir’s captivating writing is not overly lyrical or brutally succinct, but powerful and straightforward in both description and conveyance of message. She practices stunning world building that is memorable and original, and incorporates subtle mythological/magical details that embellish the already enchanting storyline. The plot is engrossing and fast-paced, and there is more than enough suspenseful action and brutal violence to constrict your heart and send a chill down your spine. The author paints some positively nasty villains, especially the Commandant, Elias’ one-of-a-kind mother, and Marcus Farrar (a creeptastic jerk), along with an enigmatic villain who hides in the shadows. The antagonists of the story are so well-rendered that I couldn’t help but hate them to their core. Which is always a good sign. But she also grants us with relatable protagonists and a bit of romance that keeps us on our toes and allows several shipping pairs to set sail.
Tahir did a wonderful job developing her characters, so much so that I cared quite a bit for the minor/side characters. Helene, despite her flaws, was a favorite of mine and I hope she has a novella of her own, or is at least given a point of view in the next installment. And I believe this story is one of the rare cases in which I truly wish the two protagonists don’t fall for one another. At least not yet. They each have other options that I whole-heartedly root for but I think we all know that the soldier and the slave are meant to be together in the end.
There were many strengths to this story, but it did have a few disappointing elements. Some fantastical or paranormal events could have been highlighted a bit more. At times these moments and mythological creatures were so subtle that they seemed to come out of nowhere. Also, the one aspect of Elias’ story I didn’t enjoy very much was his conflicted thoughts about his love/sex life. His inconsistency seemed trite and a bit out of place, especially in this world of excessive violence and loss of loved ones. Lastly, and most importantly, the excessive use of rape as a threat against every woman present in the story was exhausting and more than a bit maddening. It seemed as if rape, or the possibility of it, was thrown around for shock value and pretense of danger. And rape should most definitely never be used for that purpose.
And that’s why I give this book a solid 4.5 out 5 stars! It was probably one of the best reads of this year and the last. If you haven’t read it, I highly encourage you to do so.