MY RATING: 4 out of 5 STARS
An Ember in the Ashes certainly lived up to the hype. All the ingredients were there which is obviously why this book did, and still does, so well. It was a fast-paced, rollicking read that had me immediately downloading the second book, A Torch Against the Night, and bingeing on Saaba Tahir's punchy sentences and cruel plot twists. I just kept wanting more!
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.
As per usual, I'm not going to dissect the plot as I'm sure thousands of finer reviewers than me have done that already. Instead, I'm going to point out what I felt were the strengths of the book and its weaknesses.
World building - I loved the stark and brutal world Tahir has created. It was full and clearly imagined and that came through on the pages.
Compelling pace and sentence structure - I wonder if the author has ever been a copywriter? She writes like one - sharp, punchy and directly hits the mark with few words. It makes for a highly marketable, quick read.
Drama on every page - well almost! It's definitely a page turner. If you pick this book up, prepare to not put it down until you're done! The whole storyline was really believable and enjoyable.
Multiple POV - While I love the idea of writing from multiple points of view - my first novel is written this way - I feel the whole point of doing that is to really showcase the personalities of the various characters; to crawl inside their heads and their skins, to know them intimately. I feel this was a missed opportunity in Tahir's writing. As I read, the personalities of Laia and Elias didn't come through for me. In fact, I felt their chapters could often have been interchangeable and I sometimes found myself having to remember which character was supposed to be speaking from chapter to chapter. I think the book would have been better without attempting multiple POV.
Too much information - There was one thing that irritated me. I found myself groaning through more than a few unnecessary explanations once the characters caught on to things that were becoming clear to them. I felt a bit dumbed down as a reader. I knew perfectly well what was happening and didn't need the characters to explain it to me in such detail. I think less would have been more. It bogged down the pace too and tempted me to skip paragraphs which I think is a book-reading sin :)
Lip biting - Yes, I know! I've had a rant about this before. But I'll stop ranting when authors stop making female characters bite their lip until it bleeds! What the hell???? Okay... no. I'm not going there. I'm breathing in love and breathing out love.
Overall, I absolutely lOOOOved An Ember in the Ashes. It was a fast, gritty and fun read. It won't change your life but it's a damn good ride.