An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

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3 Stars

“Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after.”

It was hard for me to rate this book because I really liked it, a lot. My only beef is that I had a small problem with connecting to the characters, hence the three stars.

When I started reading this book, I immediately thought of how similar it was to Legend; only this one was set in medieval fantasy and had the main characters’ genders reversed. As I read further, I saw more similarities, but I also saw how different they were. I don’t want to compare, so I won’t.

Ember is a strong and intense book. It’s brutal, gritty, but also light for a fantasy novel. It’s not as rich or as dark as say A Song of Ice and Fire or as complex as The Stormlight Archive but it has the right amount of action, blood, foreshadowing and tragedy to create good fantasy. In terms of world-building, Ember doesn’t stray too far away from the main setting which is Blackcliff. Other places were mentioned but not really discussed or introduced thoroughly. The book’s map art showed a vast world so I suppose those will be explored in the following books. It was evident that the setting was strongly inspired by Ancient Rome so the way I visualized it somehow resembled that era.

My main issue with this book is the voice of the main characters: Elias and Laia. It was really hard to connect to them and there were times wherein I was confused as to whose POV I was reading. Their chapters weren’t too distinct. I also had trouble rooting for Laia. She was weak and her lack of resolve annoyed me. I felt like she was just a leaf being dragged around by the current. Ironically, the character I liked the best and empathized with the most was Helene, a non-POV character. I love her (I hope she becomes a POV character in the next book). I also thought Laia’s transition from a wimpy slave-girl to a courageous fighter at the closing chapter was too abrupt and not smoothly executed.

Now to the good bits. I love the grit and raw violence in this book. It wasn’t afraid to shed blood and to depict the brutalities of war. My favorite scene in the entire book was the battle at the amphitheater. Although I already expected it to happen, it was still difficult to read through. That was the moment I connected to Elias the most. Not just him but to all the Masks. What the Augurs made them do was brutal, not bloody-brutal but really heart-wrenching brutal. A true test of character. That was an incredible scene.

It’s clear that there’s a bigger picture and a bigger war at hand. One that involved not only the Empire but also the other races: The djinn, the fey, the ifrits, the ghuls. I have a theory, and please do not read any further if you want to avoid spoilers. It’s clear that the Nightbringer is the main antagonist in this story and the Commandant is just one of his pawns. It was mentioned that the djinns were betrayed by the early men which caused their downfall and triggered the Nightbringer’s vengeance . My theory is that the Augurs, who said that they were guilty, were either one of the first men who possessed the learned magic hence their immortality and magical abilities, or they were the fey who gave men the knowledge that caused the djinn’s defeat and they were now trying to make amends by making things right. I’m really curious about this bit of the story. It kinda reminded me of Kingkiller and its Lanre mythology.

Overall I really enjoyed this book and I’m looking forward to the next one. This is a good divergence from the usual young adult dystopian novels that plague the shelves these days. If you like books like Legend and are into fantasy that doesn’t heavily rely on magic then this is the book for you.

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