So in six days one of the most anticipated books of the year will finally be hitting shelves: A Torch Against the Night, Sabaa Tahir’s sequel to worldwide bestseller An Ember in the Ashes.
To celebrate, I’m teaming up with Allie over at The Excellent Library to do a reread of AEITA before the new book comes out! With reading, comes blogging! Wahoo for us!
For my first post about this amazing book, I decided to do something a little out of the ordinary: a sentence-by-sentence/line-by-line review of the first page of An Ember in the Ashes. Why? Well, because this first page is all you need to be hooked on this book.
“My big brother reaches home in the dark hours before dawn, when even ghosts tkae their rest.”
Well, hello, perfect opening line. It literally took my breath away today, and I’ve read the book before! It creates such an incredible visual about the world we’re stepping into. I am so excited to reread this book.
“He smells of steel and forge. He smells of the enemy.”
Can you see now why I wanted to just do a line-by-line discussion of the start? Tahir uses such vivid imagery in seemingly simply ways, and it’s spellbinding. Three sentences in and I’m dying to know: Who is Laia and why does she have enemies?
“He folds his scarecrow body through the window, bare feet silent on the rushes. A hot desert wind blows in after him, rustling the curtains. His sketchbook falls to the floor, and he nudges it under his bunk with a quick foot, as if it’s a snake.”
Should I stop now? If, at this point, you don’t want to read this book, I probably can’t help you. Read the first sentence here one more time. He folds his scarecrow body…bare feet silent on the rushes. At this moment we don’t even know Laia’s brother’s name… yet I can picture the outline of his body falling through a window. Tahir’s ability to keep a consistent scenery going is impressive as well. The hot desert wind, the sketchbook as a snake. Obviously, the sketchbook is important, but why?
“Where have you been Darin? In my head, I have the courage to ask the question and Darin trusts me enough to answer. Why do you keep disappearing? Why, when Pop and Nan need you? When I need you?“
We finally reach Laia’s direct thoughts for the first time, and they’re heartbreaking. The hurt she feels at her brother’s lack of trust in her is palpable. What could have happened to them? Who are Pop and Nan?
“Every night for almost two years, I’ve wanted to ask. Every night, I’ve lacked the courage. I have one sibling left. I don’t want him to shut me out like he has everyone else.”
Okay, something’s been happening for two years?! That’s a long time to wonder. It’s got to be massive if Laia is so scared. And one sibling left? What happened to her other sibling? Where does this family live? Tahir leads us to these questions without shouting them at us. They’re designed to make us want more.
“But tonight’s different. I know what’s in his sketchbook. I know what it means.”
Okay, so we’re back to the sketchbook. Clearly, Darin’s hiding something in it. What’s in it, and how does Laia know what it means?
“‘You shouldn’t be awake.’ Darin’s whisper jolts me from my thoughts. He has a cat’s sense for traps – he got it from our mother. I sit up on the bunk as he lights the lamp. No use pretending to be asleep.”
Now we’ve really met Darin, and we’ve also figured out that Pop and Nan are almost positively not their parents. So where are her parents? There are so many questions I’ve got and I’m literally not past the first page of the book. There’s literally no way I can stop reading.
“‘It’s past curfew, and three patrols have gone by. I was worried.'”
Wait, but really, WHERE do these people live. If you read the flap of the book, you know they live in the Martial Empire. But what does that really mean!? If there are patrols, curfew is clearly not set by Laia and Darin’s parental figures.
“‘I can avoid the soldiers, Laia. Lots of practice.’ He rests his chin on my bunk and smiles Mother’s sweet, crooked smile. A familiar look – the one he gives me if I wake from a nightmare or we run out of grain. Everything will be fine, the look says.”
Ah, and here’s our real confirmation that Nan and Pop are certainly not their parents. Where did their mother go? Why is Darin avoiding the soldiers each night? The description of this look also gives us a major insight into the siblings’ relationship. The idea that Darin, like his mother, is a calming influence is important – but it also highlights that he’s manipulative.
“He picks up the book on my bed. ‘Gather in the Night,’ he reads the title. ‘Spooky. What’s it about?’“
Okay, now they’re talking books? I love books! I guess it’s time to turn the page and learn even more…
And so, we’ve made it to the end of Sabaa Tahir’s introduction to the world. Her world and ours. Who are Laia and Darin, really? And what’s to come for them? You’ve just got to read the rest of the book to find out! (And trust me, it only gets better).