Friday, 8 April 2016

An Ember in the Ashes - Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes follows the stories of Laia and Elias. Laia is a Scholar girl, living in her home which has been invaded by the cruel Martial Empire. Elias is a soldier, training at Blackcliff Military Academy to become a Mask - one of the Empire's elite fighters. When Laia's grandparents are murdered and her brother arrested by the Empire, she has no choice but to turn to the rebels to help her free her brother. They offer her this help, but at a price - Laia must spy for the rebel movement upon the Commandant of Blackcliff. To agree would put her at risk of torture and danger at every turn. To be discovered would mean her death.


The book goes from 0-60 in about two seconds. There is no build up, you are dropped straight into the action and it stays that way until the end, it literally never slows down. I know a lot of people would hate that but I've read so many books lately where the beginning is so slow that this book was a breath of fresh air. I liked switching between Elias and Laia because although they do eventually become love interests, their experiences in this book are very different so seeing it from two points of view was a good idea.

As for the romance in the book, beforehand I had read that it featured a love triangle/square and so for obvious (repetitive) reasons, I was hesitant to read it. Elias gets torn between his childhood friend and fellow soldier, Helene and Laia. Laia gets torn between Elias, a person who she should see as the enemy and Keenan, a member of the resistance. As much as I loved this book, I found all of this unnecessary but luckily, it didn't take up a lot of the plot. I wish Elias and Helene had only seen each other as best friends because that in itself is a strong bond and I just didn't get the fascination Laia had with Keenan? Oh well, like I said, the romance was minor in this book.

As for characters, I want to kick off with the Commandant. Oh my bloody trifle! She scared the hell out of me. A woman who basically jumps at the opportunity to inflict pain on her slaves, or pretty much anyone. I honestly feared for Laia's life on more than one occasion, whenever she was spying on her, I held my breath for fear of what would happen. As cruel and terrible and sadistic as she is, it's nice to finally have a 'villain' that you are scared of. 
Laia is a good character. She goes on a fantastic journey into finding herself and her strength. She never forgets about her brother and her need to save him. She withstands everything that happens to her (and a lot happens to her) all for her him and she finds her courage doing so.
Elias is a refreshing male character. Even though he is the finest soldier in the Academy, his only goal is freedom. He has a moral compass which brings him a lot of suffering in this world of tyranny. 
Helene is brilliant. Although I don't agree with a lot of her views, she did everything she could for herself and for Elias. She is a brilliant female character who takes zero shit from anybody considering she is the only female in the Academy (may I also mention this book contains mentions of rape!!) Although she comes across as being a hardass and a tough girl, she has a gift that is none of those things. I thought that was a beautiful juxtaposition. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. My only criticisms is that I wish there had been more world-building and that the love shape of some sort was taken out. Other than that, I am really looking forward to the sequel and I would definitely recommend this book!

As soon as An Ember in the Ashes popped up on my recommended books, I knew that it looked as though it was just my thing; a rebellion brewing in a land overtaken by an Empire inspired by Ancient Rome, and I ordered it straight away. However, when I started reading, I wasn't 100% sure about it. It seemed to rush into the story quite fast, and I thought I was going to end up being disappointed by the time I finished it. 

How wrong I was.

The first chapter, from Laia's point of view, doesn't waste time jumping straight into the action. As I said, I did struggle with this to begin with as although I don't like a deathly slow start to a book, I do like to get to know the characters a little first. However, in the long run, the fast paced start didn't affect the book badly - since the pace is kept up through the rest of it, it definitely worked in its favour. The one problem I did have with the point of view alternating for each chapter is that I felt as though some of the chapters seemed a bit short before you jumped back into what was happening with the other character, but this did help to build the suspense and tension really well. 

It didn't take me long to love Laia as a character. I'd mark her amongst the badass girls of young adult fiction, however, Laia isn't like the usual sword or bow and arrow wielding badass - she's simply completely brave and selfless throughout the book, and constantly sees herself as weak and cowardly because she's unable to fight and often gets scared. However, by agreeing to spy on the Commandant (possibly the most terrifying character I've ever seen) and carrying on with her mission even though she endures constant trials and physical pain. she proves herself to be the strongest character in the book. 
Back to the Commandant - this woman is both terrifying and intriguing. I was on the edge of my seat whenever she appeared, or even when there was the slightest possibility that she could appear. I'm also really interested in finding more out about her backstory, and how she became so hardened and cruel, even towards her own family. 
Elias, the other POV character, was also very likeable - he was willing to go against everything he'd grown up being taught in order to protect others. Some of his scenes were so intense, and they really did emphasise the cruelty of the Empire. 

There is, unfortunately, some sort of double love triangle shape thing happening in this book - Laia and Elias naturally become love interests to each other, but Elias also has something going on with his childhood friend Helene, and Laia has a thing for Keenan, a resistance member who she reports to whilst she spies on the Commandant. Honestly, most of the romance shown in the book is between Laia and Elias, so it isn't too much of a big deal, but I thought the other love interests just didn't make sense. Although Elias and Helene were obviously very close, Helene didn't share Elias's dreams or ideology, and Laia and Keenan just had zero chemistry and barely seemed to know anything about each other. 

Alongside the strong characters and plot, what really made this book for me was the subtext. This book is about the ideals of right against wrong; it asks how far you must or should go in order to achieve something, even if that something may be awful in itself, but could bring around the best possible conclusion to a situation. 

I thought this was a brilliant read, one of the best books I've read in a while, and I cannot wait to see how the story progresses!

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