Monday, May 11, 2015

[Review] An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

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An Ember in the Ashes
Sabaa Tahir
YA Fantasy
Published: April 2015 (Razorbill)
Format: Ebook
Pages: 464
Source: Bought
Rating: 4 of 5
 
Laia, 17, is a coward and so far, it’s kept her alive. As a Scholar living under the brutal rule of the Martial Empire, Laia knows that courage will only get her killed. Then the Martials imprison Laia’s brother for treason. To save him from execution, Laia must step out of the shadows and embark on a quest that will take her from the haunted catacombs of her city to the halls of Blackcliff Academy, where the Empire trains its most feared soldiers. She must find the courage to defy everything the Martials stand for in a place where defiance has one outcome: death.

Elias, 20, is Blackcliff’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Sickened by the prospect of hunting and killing Scholars who oppose the Empire, Elias decides to desert the military. But before he can run, he’s ordered to participate in the Trials, a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor. Elias must wage war in the Trials with skill and ferocity while struggling with a deep inner ambivalence. For while losing the Trials might cost him his life, winning them could cost him his soul.

When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at Blackcliff, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the Empire itself.

Warning: Spoilers, probably. You have been warned.

I don't like doing synopsis type things, so let's get on with the review. =p

This book was one I went into expecting to despise. Which, in itself, is easy to overcome. When I went through a few people's reviews I started to worry that the hype was just hype and the book was passable. But I decided to read it anyway and I'm glad I did. I really am.

The action scenes are lovely! The author seemed to know what she was doing when she wrote them. They are fluid and a good length. And the world in which the characters find themselves is very appealing to read about. The details and lore of it aren't thrown at you right in the beginning, but gradually pieced together as the book progresses. And yet, I still have a complaint. While the people around them are given in detail, I don't like the lack of detail about their surroundings. I have no clue what the place looks like other than that it is a desert. I have to guess it is Roman-esque just based off of the way the lore defines the Martials, but I feel as though I was never actually told in a good description what the school looks like. Maybe I read it and just forgot and if so, I'm sorry. Please correct my mistake. I hate to be so picky, but it's just in a fantasy book I need to be told these sorts of things to build the idea of the world in my mind. I need to be able to envision where the characters are. Also, I know that the world is supposed to be a harsh place to live, but the constant use of rape as a conflict kinda bothered me. I understand that it happens and that it's scary, but reusing it over and over makes people uncomfortable (not me, really, but people). I don't think it should have been used to emphasis how pretty Laia was, for another thing.

The characters are interesting to me. Elias is a compassionate thing, having to hide his feelings behind a (heh) mask when the world in which he is raised expects him to have no regrets. Loyalty through and through to the Empire. He dislikes that even his best friends seem to have no feelings towards the Scholars, who they are taught to look down upon. He doesn't understand how people can be so cruel and he doesn't want to be the type of person he is basically forced to be. I also like that it is shown that he has this thing called hormones because it is just human to me. His feelings toward Helene, his best friend, were not clear sighted. I do wish that he had more of an idea of his own thoughts, but his fickleness makes him human. His desire to not interrupt his comfortable relationship with her bothered me, but I understand. Taking a leap is a hard thing to do when you have a previous friendship. If you don't work out, you lose so much more than if you had just stayed as friends. I think it's ironic, though, that in the long run Elias is selfish. He constantly thought about his own happiness and freedom. When it boils down to it, he was going to kill Helene.

The other MC, Laia, was a bit more on the dull side for me. Even so, I enjoyed reading her parts (surprising) and once she started to overcome her fear, it became easier to deal with. I honestly appreciated the fact that it took Laia so long to be able to get on with her spying. She was afraid for her life: a coward, and it showed. She was trying to become someone stronger and the road to strength doesn't come in a day. She sort of used other people as a crutch and her reliance on her brother shows this, but her resilience to become stronger pays off in the end. It just makes sense to me. When she realized that her shortcomings were harming the Resistance, she decided to try harder and put herself in more danger to get results. Being surrounded by the people that bare scars of their experiences in the same position as you, I'd think you'd be afraid of acting out. I don't like that people discredit the differences between people. Not everyone is as emotionally strong as others may be. What takes someone days to master, it could take someone else years.

Another important character was Helene. I really liked the way she was written, even if I didn't personally care for her. She was strong and adhered to the rules, in a way that kept from her potential by her loyalty to the Empire. Her love for Elias was subtle, for the most part, but definitely important. The best part I saw from her was when she told Elias that it was hard to love him. It hurts me that her love for him can't be pure and unhindered, that it has to be dampened by their situation and the fact that Elias doesn't love her back. I don't expect Elias to be forced into loving her, although his attraction to her is evident. It's just a shame, really. Her reluctance to defy the rules is shown all through out her character. They matter to her more than anything. So when she ignores them for Elias, it says a lot about her.

I saw that a lot of people were complaining about the love square thing that was going on, and while I see where they are coming from, I don't exactly agree. I thought that the love spark between Elias and Laia was unnecessary, yes; it needs to be explored and expanded upon to be believable. But the other interests (Keenan and Helene) were validated. Elias was trying his best to not destroy his relationship with Helene, but the interest was still there. He, like always, was masking ('dat pun again) his feelings. Laia, on the other hand, was trying to latch onto someone that felt safe. And Keenan was the closest thing she was getting to comfort. I do hope that the relationship between Laia and Keenan dissolves, though. There is room for so much more than we are getting and I hate for all the character to be wasted on shallow love interests.

The ending had a lot of unresolved questions and there is no way this book is a stand alone, even if it was advertised as such to me.

Overall, I'd say the book is good. It could use improvement, but I am fine without it. The characters are all very different and I liked the way the plot advanced into what it did. I expect good things from the sequel, if it gets picked up by the publisher.

TL;DR

Good:
+ Characters/Character Growth
+ World
+ Action

Bad:
- Lack of detail
- Use of conflict (aka rape)
- Love mess

Final Rating: 4 of 5