Sabaa Tahir: An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1)

Title: An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1)
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Genre: Fantasy, Dystopia, 21st Century Young Adult Literature
Source: Personal Copy
Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin-Random House
Release Date: April 28, 2015
Format: Hardcover; 978-1-59514-803-2; $19.95
Pages: 450
Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Summary: For hundreds of years, Scholars have been enslaved to the Martials, the brutish, blood-thirsty rulers of the Empire. In this harsh world, Laia, along with her brother Darin and her grandparents, try to eek out a living. Unexpectedly, their lives are destroyed one night when a group of soldiers, led by a fearsome Mask (the Empire’s most ruthless and skilled killers), raids their home. killing her grandparents and arresting her brother. Forced to choose between staying to help Darin or fleeing to save her own life, Laia chooses to run–at Darin’s urging. To save her brother, Laia seeks the help of the Resistance, a rebel group trying to bring down the empire, and they agree to help her–for a price–working as a spy/slave for Blackcliff military academy’s ruthless leader. Laia soon is pulled deeper and deeper into a world of intrigue, revolution, demonic power, and imperial domination and will soon learn that, with the help of an unlikely friend, she may very well be the key to saving her people and freeing the land of the Empire.

Review: I didn’t think, after reading Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass or Court of Thorns and Roses series, that I’d find another series that would occupy so much of my heart and mind. BUT, Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes has wiggled in amongst them as a new favorite and beloved series of mine. I have already started reading–and am halfway through–the sequel, and I absolutely cannot wait for books three and four.

Initially, I had a bit of a slow start with this book, but it quickly picked up pace by about chapter five, and it swept me along like a tidal wave as Tahir’ begins to unfold a breathtaking and intricate world that recalls the power, brutality, beauty, and vivaciousness of Ancient Rome. I think the slow start was mainly my fault in trying to get used to a new series. Tahir does some substantial character and world-building that is vital to the depth of this novel at the beginning that required me to push through, and I’m glad I did, because this novel HAS DEPTH! Tahir’s world-building is incredibly three-dimensional, vivid, and she creates a world that immediately feels like it teems with life. Descriptions, characterization, and realism of Laia’s world make me feel as a reader as though I really live in Laia’s world, that I experience her fears, her loves, her hopes and dreams. It sits now among a short list of books and series that have made me feel this way.  What ultimately helps this success is Tahir’s prose, which is fluid and lyrical as well, which making this book fun and immersive–this novel is the epitome of showing and not telling, and Tahir is a master.

Diverse and interesting characters pepper this novel, and to give them their own unique voices, Tahir structures this novel through the alternating perspectives of Laia and Elias. Laia is a former free woman who becomes a slave at Blackcliff military academy in order to spy for resistance fighters. She ends up meeting Elias, a very unwilling Mask soldier at Blackcliff. The voices for each character are unique, with their own personalities that really shine through. Tahir does a good job of connecting events between perspectives so that they all happen as seamlessly as possible. My favorite parts in this vein were Elias’s, and like Laia, she makes it easy for readers to fall in love with him. We see Tahir’s criticism of injustice, racism, and inequality through Elias, as he slowly comes to see through the lies of the Empire and its regimes. Tahir’s themes and messages in this novel are powerful, heartfelt, and honest.

This book is absolutely one of my favorites and I highly recommend it. I don’t often get to re-read, but this book is an exception I will make.

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Note: This novel does have some scenes that may disturb some readers, particularly with regards to rape and intense violence. Parents should exercise caution if considering giving this book to a teen under 15.


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