After seeing all the great reviews and all the hype, I thought I should definitely give this one a try. Also, have any of you seen the ridiculous amount of marketing for any other book before? Jeeze! It was like the next Harry Potter was coming out or something. Anyway, I knew the entire blogging community would read this book, so I didn't want to be left out. I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Release Date: April 28th 2015
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire's impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They've seen what happens to those who do.
But when Laia's brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire's greatest military academy.
There, Laia meets Elias, the school's finest soldier--and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyrrany he's being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined--and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself. (Goodreads)
My Bookish Thoughts:
Upon a closer look, I noticed recently that it got a mixture of reviews. A lot of people gave it 2 or 3 stars but then others gave it 5 with a "best book of the year" star. The mixture in ratings really confused me...until I began reading it.
It has a weird fast pace while also being simultaneously slow. I really don't know exactly how to explain it. There was a lot of action, and it was never boring per se, but the first 40-50% of the book seemed like it was exposition at times. That doesn't mean that things didn't start off with a bang, or things weren't constantly heating up, it just had its stagnant moments. For me, I was consistently engaged with the book. I didn't really think there was ever a dull moment, but I could see where other people who don't normally read fantasy could find it a little slow-moving and unentertaining.
Though this is definitely a fantasy novel, I felt that there were times that a dystopia feel came out in the diction. Certain words she used reminded me of words you would fin in a post-apocalyptic setting, so that sometimes jarred me out of my reading. However, that is not to say that the world-building wasn't absolutely spectacular! It's probably in my top 5 best worlds of the year, and I've read some really excellent books with excellent world building.
As for the characters, I found them very interesting. All of them seemed well developed except for a few of Elias's friends who seemed to just blend together after a while. Helene, though I had a love/hate relationship with her, was probably my favorite female character. Laia was okay, she just seemed a bit too "poor pity me/I miss my brother" type for me to really fall in love with her character. On the other hand, I REALLY loved Elias. He is probably one of the best male protagonists I've read in fantasy in a really long time. He was complex and masculine, he had a lot of inner conflict (which you guys know I love with any character), and is badass with a sword. So yes, I loved him to bits.
Overall, this book had wicked awesome world building, a male protagonist that I really loved and not just for the swoony reasons, and social justice theme that made me want to jump into the fray.
If this book were to come with a warning label, it would look a lot like this:
WARNING: This book will have you squirming in your seat and your gut twisted in knots. Your nails might also be bitten down to the quick, and at the end, you will be begging for the next book.
I gave this book 4 stars
***Caveat for the Squeamish:
This is a relatively violent book. There is a constant threat of rape throughout the entirety of it, and there is a major torture aspect that's woven throughout the entire narrative. I've noticed via Twitter and Goodreads, that this really bothered some readers. For me, I wasn't bothered, and I probably wouldn't have written anything about it unless I saw those updates from other readers; however, I'm used to reading gritty fantasy like Game of Thrones and such. I honestly didn't think that this book was any more graphically violent than the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas, but I figured I should at least forewarn readers.