Monday, April 20, 2015

Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Series: n/a (at this time, but pleasepleasePLEASE let there be a sequel?!?)
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: April 28, 2015
Source: ARC received from publisher
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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Laia is a slave.
Elias is a soldier.
Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

From the moment I started An Ember in the Ashes, I knew how it would end...and I couldn't have cared less. Usually, I hate that kind of predictability in the novels I read, but with this story, it's more about how the characters get there than the actual thing itself. But I must warn you, the path is bloody and violent and no one is left unscathed when all is said and done.

Though the pacing of this story was slow and steady in the beginning, there is never a lack of intensity -- in the characters or in their actions -- and it is far from tedious. It also picks up immensely once the Trials begin. An Ember in the Ashes is a survival story: of one girl's mission to rescue her brother and one boy's quest for his own freedom. Both are pretending to be something they are not in order to achieve their goals, and both may lose their lives in the process. They know the risks and yet, whether they consider themselves brave or not, they undertake the missions they've set for themselves as if they've got nothing left to live for. And maybe they don't.

Laia is not your average brave heroine who will do anything for the people she cares about, which is actually what made her so intriguing to me. She's terrified of her own shadow but because she knows he would do it for her, she embarks on this insane journey to find the Resistance and convince them to help her save her brother. Elias, on the other hand, is the son of the most vile and reprehensible character I've come across in some time, and yet he hates his role in the Empire as a Mask and trained killer. He just wants to be free of those who would make him a murderer.

Their lives could not be more different, and yet Laia and Elias are obviously fated to meet and fall madly in love, right? Except that they don't immediately become each other's world. Their thoughts do linger on the other, but there's not quite room for them in each other's lives yet, especially since Laia's contact in the Resistance is noble and good and quite eye-catching. And Elias's best friend -- and the only female student at Blackcliff -- is in love with him, though Elias pretends he doesn't know this. And even at that, these would-be love affairs are the least of their worries. Still, Laia and Elias are both "an ember in the ashes" in the future of the Empire, and their futures are wrapped up in each other. But if you're worried about a possible love square, or whatever, I'd say save your worry because the focus of this book isn't really on the romance(s).

You've definitely seen some version of this same story around, as this novel gets a little tropey at times. I won't make comparisons and generalizations: I'll leave those up to you. But although I did find a lot of similarities to other recent and very popular young adult novels, I have to say that the writing in this book was just so much more eloquent and haunting than what I'm used to from dystopian-like novels. The prose was fluid and imagery-heavy, and it created a very stunning and terrible picture of what this world was like for all inhabitants. It was one of the most evocative novels I've read in awhile, and it made me angry. Especially when it came to the Commandant and those Trials.

I was quite impressed by this novel. It's gut-wrenching and horrifying and it was definitely hard to read at times. But it also speaks of a future where anyone can rise up against the powers that be and strike out for change. So, in that way, it was kind of hopeful, albeit dismally so. As I said, I expected the ending, so I didn't feel like it was a cliffhanger, though not knowing if there will be a sequel is a bit perplexing. I just have to hope that with all of the hype over this book, the author has more of Laia and Elias's story to tell and that the publisher will get it out into the world.

GIF it to me straight:
This book made me want to burn the best possible way.

About the author:

Sabaa Tahir grew up in California’s Mojave Desert at her family’s 18-room motel. There, she spent her time devouring fantasy novels, raiding her brother’s comic book stash and playing guitar badly. She began writing An Ember in the Ashes while working nights as a newspaper editor. She likes thunderous indie rock, garish socks and all things nerd. Sabaa currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.

Find Sabaa:

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  1. this came at the EXACT right time when i was digging around for a new book to read. thanks! :)

    xo, allie

  2. This sounds SO good. I'm pumped. I'm ready for it!!

  3. I have definitely heard it's violent and hard to read at times. I'm worried about the tropes but if it's still interesting then I am on board. I have this preordered but I think I may listen to the audiobook. It sounds like the kind of book that would be good in that format. Great review!
    Cassi @ My Thoughts Literally

  4. You're so lucky you get to read this ahead of time. I've beens salivating for this ever since it showed up in the blogosphere. I'm looking forward to experiencing this book first hand.

  5. I'm glad you liked it! I had a very love-hate relationship with this book, aka I loved everything except for how the romance was handled. But it's definitely a well-crafted story, very prettily written.

    Sarcasm & Lemons

  6. This was definitely a difficult read at times! This world is so brutal and terrifying and the things that the main characters have to go through? whoa! The characters themselves were well-developed, and I liked how complicated they and their relationships were. Though, I was a *little* disappointed in the romance portion because I could never tell what the author wanted to do with it. But I am glad it didn't have such a strong focus. I thought Sabaa's writing was so wonderful, and I can't wait to see what's in store for her next, though I am crossing all my fingers we get a sequel to this!

    Wonderful review, Jen! :)


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