“There are two kinds of guilt,” I say softly. “The kind that’s a burden and the kind that gives you purpose. Let your guilt be your fuel. Let it remind you of who you want to be.”
To say that I was awed by An Ember In The Ashes is a great understatement. I don’t even know how or where to begin with this review because there were so many points in this book that floored me and left me reeling, making it impossible to form coherent thoughts. Nevertheless, I will try my best to give this book a review it deserves so I’m gonna dissect each aspect of it.
World building. This book was set in a fictional city called Serra. Most of the scenes happened inside the military school, Blackcliff Academy. This is where children were trained to become Masks, which I guess is the equivalent of high ranking military generals in today’s time. I’m a reader with a very vivid imagination and the way the author described the city, the school and other places made the world of this book come alive in my mind. It was not overly detailed but someone with the imagination level of a rock will be able to see pretty clearly in their own imagination the picture that Ms. Tahir painted with her words.
Characters. If you have read my post about the kind of heroine I want, you will know that I prefer the badass ones—those who aren’t afraid, those who fight, those who don’t just mope around and feel sorry for themselves. So when I first read about Laia, I’ll admit, I was kind of disappointed. Why? Because she was obviously a coward. She’s the type of person who would rather hide than fight back. But let me tell you now: I love Laia. She might be one of my favorite YA heroines. Why the sudden U-turn? It’s because of her excellent character development. I grew to admire her because of her strength and courage. Now those words seem cliché but they’re true. She was afraid at first, yes. But she became strong and she went through everything she did (and trust me, she went through a lot) because of her love for her brother and her determination to get him back. She’s a badass now in my book.
And then, there’s Elias. If you’re fond of frustrating characters, then he’s your best friend. Seriously, he made me pull my hair out for so many times, I lost count. I wanted to chuck my reader out the window just to get rid of him. And because of that, he’s obviously a well-written character, too. I love him for getting a rise out of me and making me feel so much emotion. Seriously. It also helps that he has gray eyes because everyone knows I’m a sucker for them (you can also learn that from my post about the kind of hero I’m fond of). Elias is kind of a fun character to read. He’s not broody like most YA heroes nowadays. He’s also smart but has a tendency for idiocy when it comes to girls (that’s where my frustration comes from). He was written in a way that blends strength and vulnerability perfectly together.
They’re the two main characters but there were lots of others in this book, too. The Commandant was clearly written to be hated—very cunning and ruthless. Keenan and Helene were characters who you don’t know if you’ll love or you’ll hate. I can’t even decide until now. I won’t mention the others because that’s for readers to find out on their own when they get their hands on this book but I will just say that these supporting characters all have roles, both big and small, in Laia’s fight to free her brother and Elias’ own fight for a different kind of freedom. They were present in the story, not just written to fill something in the background and all conjured different emotions from me which is what I loved about them.
Plot and Narration. Sabaa Tahir writes to take you at the edge of your seat. That’s what I thought the first time she made my jaw drop by ending a chapter with a bang so loud it knocked me off my feet. An Ember In The Ashes is a heart-pounding book. It’s full of twists and revelations you wouldn’t see coming. Rich characters plus a terrific world building plus an action-packed plot made sure that this book lived up to the hype and one that readers like myself wouldn’t forget for a long, long time. Let me talk about the end of chapters again. I swear, Sabaa writes it so that you’ll scream your head off. Most were so baffling and have cliffhangers that when you flip the page to the next chapter your heart’s still beating erratically. It’s guaranteed to make you want to tear through the pages. There were so many times that I was just staring at the last word of a chapter, as if willing it to have more words because it. CANNOT. JUST. END. LIKE. THAT! It was clever, perfect, genius, awesome and whatever positive adjectives there are left in the thesaurus.
I also want to say a lot little something about the love story part of this book. First off, this didn’t really focus on the love story and I really loved that. I know, I know. I said I’m a sucker for romance but ten hells, this is a story about two people’s fight for freedom! It’s full of action and danger that didn’t really leave a lot of space for a romance to bloom and flourish. I think that if it did focus on the romance, it would have kind of ruined the urgency of the story. With that said, there was a little romance involved here which was perfectly injected between the scenes. It made me see the characters in a different light, a more vulnerable one. There’s no love triangle here—well, not really. Readers will have to figure the answer to that on their own because the love story was more complicated than the calculus problems I had to solve in high school.
Overall, I can say that Sabaa Tahir didn’t go wrong with An Ember In The Ashes for a debut novel. It’s daring, treacherous and filled to brim with action and an elaborately woven story line guaranteed to make a reader’s heart pound and ask for more.