Lovely readers I am just chugging along with my quest for fifteen thousand pages. I read three books last week! They were YA, though, and I tend to fly through that genre because I just find it so fun. I still have not finished Twain. WHOOPS.
Sabaa Tahir’s debut YA novel, An Ember in the Ashes, has been on my radar for a while now. I follow Penguin and Penguin Teen on Facebook (how else would I enter all those Sarah Dessen contests?) and they promoted the SHIT out of this book. I can’t say I blame them, either. It capitalizes on ALL of today’s biggest YA trends: dystopian, supernatural, with MULTIPLE love triangles thrown in.
But the biggest thing that justifies Penguin’s aggressive marketing? The quality. This book is good. Take the supernatural out, take the “genre”-ness out, and it’s a really phenomenal story about two people who seem as though they couldn’t be more different. It’s a story about finding who you are in the most trying of times.
REVIEW: An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir
Plot: After Laia’s brother is captured by the Empire, she strives to find the Resistance to help get him back. At their urging, she becomes a spy as a slave in the most dangerous of places: Blackcliff Academy, where ruthless Masks are trained to kill. Elias, a Super Skull (aka about to graduate) at Blackcliff, struggles with the realities of the Empire and what being a Mask really means. Their lives become entwined in a way neither could have imagined.
Most Memorable Line(s): “Skies…”
-So this is more of a phrase than a line; it happens a bunch of times. It’s used in the same way we would use “Oh my god” or, more aptly “holy shit.” I think it’s such a beautiful way to alter that expression; it’s one of wonder, and what’s more wondrous than the sky? In it we see the bluest of blues, the blackest of blacks, and the shining of hundreds of millions of stars.
What I liked: First, I really liked the way Tahir split the narrative between Laia and Elias. It felt really natural to the story and I thought she did a really wonderful job of giving them definitive and separate voices – that’s really hard! I really felt, even at the beginning, that Laia and Elias were both fully formed characters and that’s not something that often happens. Even as I got to know them more during the novel, there was a really solid foundation upon which their personalities were built. The idea of bravery is such a complex one in this book – and in life – and I really loved how important Tahir made it. A common thought for both Laia and Elias – how can I be brave? – was answered in such different ways for both of them, and it was a common thread I appreciated throughout the story. I loved the way Tahir embedded her love triangles, as well. Laia and Elias aren’t even supposed to know each other. In many ways, they don’t. But to see their connection grow over time, as well as how it started affecting their thought processes, was really special. Because Tahir had already set up suitable love interests for them both anyway, it was even more interesting. It also wasn’t cheesy. It felt so real for both of them to rankle over what they wanted – as late teens/young twentysomethings do. I also think just simply the story was fantastic. Tahir melded a lot of different story lines together (more on that in a minute) and I liked that there was so much going on. Each idea she had for a story arc felt like it really fit into the narrative she was building.
What I didn’t like: While Tahir obviously always planned for a sequel to this book, it was also clearly set up as a stand alone in many ways. Because of that, I felt as though it rushed to get to the action while still trying to drag out the narrative in a way. Don’t get me wrong – I’m so glad there will be a sequel and I think the way Tahir set it up is PERFECT, but there were moments where I felt like I was getting whiplash because each storyline was set up and happening really quickly. I would’ve liked for things to happen seemingly slightly more organically.
Grade: 8.5/10, for slight whiplash but awesome, awesome bones. Can’t wait for the sequel!