Author: Sabaa Tahir
Genre: YA, High Fantasy
*Gasp* Did you hear that? It was the sound of me in shock that I’ve finally enjoyed a YA high fantasy. It’s been a while (if you don’t include The Winner’s Curse which is more light fantasy). An Ember in the Ashes reminds me of why I loved YA fantasy in the first place, because it is exciting and fast-paced and has characters and ships you become severely attached to.
The funny thing is we’ve seen these plotlines before in YA time and time again. Girl wants to go find a family member. Girl goes to spy on enemy for resistance. Brutal, dystopian society. Romance between girl and boy of different social stations. What makes this story different is that Tahir is not afraid to take her characters to their limits and doesn’t censor or sanitize any of what makes this society brutal (except I didn’t like the use of rape as a plot device). Because of that, she elevates the tension and suspense to their maximum effect and makes this story exciting and action-packed. I was actually scared for Laia whenever she went to spy on the enemy because the consequences were so dire.
The character arcs themselves were very interesting to follow. Instead of not knowing the Empire is bad, Elias already knows he wants to desert the Empire so the reader doesn’t have read about the same old development arc we’ve seen before. Laia, on the other hand, is afraid she is not like her mother who was brave and charismatic. She’s afraid of being a coward and not being able to look out for the people she cares about. I loved her character arc especially because her growth isn’t an entire transformation and isn’t slapping you in the face with how obvious it is. Instead, it’s a subtle growth that quietly transforms her character and by the end of the book, she is ready to take on the world. *Happy sigh* There were also some interesting side characters (including another servant that Laia makes friends with and the Commandant who is..crazy..) that are as equally fascinating and that make for fun and complex relationships and bonds.
As for the romance, there are two love triangles. One for Elias, the other for Laia. *Oprah voice* Everybody gets a love triangle!! (Jk) I’m not one for love triangles so I found it a tad annoying. Elias would think this person was oh so hot and then the next page, he would say the same thing about Laia. And vice versa. Even though it was annoying, I still liked the interactions between Elias and Laia. And I could ignore the annoying parts because the other parts of the book made up for it.
There’s a touch of the supernatural in this book which I felt was slightly incongruous with the worldbuilding. The worldbuilding itself was pretty decent, especially with the histories, cultures, and customs of the two opposing societies. However, the descriptions of the physical locations and buildings and things like that needed work. This book has been promoted as Roman-inspired but I didn’t see any of that except maybe the use of the amphitheater.
I’m glad this book isn’t a standalone because this book definitely leaves a lot of unanswered questions. If you’ve already read this book, I did post a spoiler discussion of my thoughts so you can check that out if you want! Let me know if you’re planning on reading this book!