An Ember in the Ashes

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Flipping Fantastic Fantasy
Overall rating 
 
5.0
Plot 
 
5.0
Characters 
 
5.0
Writing Style 
 
5.0
I received this book as an ARC a couple weeks before its' release on April 28th. This is hands down the best book of 2015 so far and here's why: Sabaa Tahir has created a world in which we never want to leave. She has taken Laia and motivates her with her brother being stripped from her life and she is forced to endure unspeakable things to attempt and save him. She is a prime example of female strength and everybody can take tips from her. I admire her strength and willpower. The other main character is Elias Veturius and he is very interesting. What sets him apart from most other fantasy novels is the fact that he isn't a prince or someone of high standard, well he is, but in a very different way. Elias doesn't like where he is in life, because he has to deal with his mother who he very much dislikes because she is a very strict person. He has heart and its admirable. The side character like Helene and Spiro are so incredibly important. So are Chef and Kitchen-girl. Everyone plays such a pivotal role in the plot-line and it is incredibly difficult for an author to do that and it is fantastic that she managed it! The plot is very fast-paced and it will definitely keep the attention of any Young Adult reader and of anyone who reads fantasy novels, period, even if you usually only enjoy adult fantasy. The style of the writing isn't like anything I have read before and that makes this story even more appealing to everyone. This is a wonderful novel that leaves you begging for more. As of right now it is a standalone novel, and after reading it, I NEED A SEQUEL. Go ahead and read it yourself and you will understand why a sequel is a necessity. We need more Sabaa Tahir and her wonderful writing.
Good Points
The characters are extremely well developed
The plot is intriguing
The writing is so wonderful
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wonderful
Overall rating 
 
5.0
Plot 
 
5.0
Characters 
 
5.0
Writing Style 
 
5.0
"An Ember in the Ashes" is the captivating tale of a Scholar (race) named Laia and a Martial named Elias. Each is trapped in their world and seeking freedom. Laia's story begins with the capture of her brother and death of her grandparents (their parents and sister are already dead) at the hand of the Martial Empire. As a lowly Scholar, she does not have much recourse other than to try to join the Resistance and spy for them in exchange for them working to break out her brother.

Elias has been raised to be a Mask, a ruthless type of soldier from whom Emperors are chosen. Deserters are publicly killed, but he is willing to risk it for his freedom. The POV is third person limited alternating between the two characters. Their lives intertwine at various points, each a reminder of himself in the other.

One of the things I found really unique about this book was that the two main characters were not each other's primary love interests, and I liked that it wasn't forced. Additionally, this world is unlike any I have ever read- there are elements of a dystopian society but combined with fantasy (ghuls, jinn, etc.). The characters are each interesting and flawed- they lack a specific type of courage that they need to be satisfied with their current lot in life. What they learn throughout the book is the strength of their own character which is really enough to achieve what they need and want.

The story is carefully woven and their destinies are aligned, though exactly how much doesn't become clear until the end (which I did not entirely predict). The plot kept me on my toes and I found this book impossible to put down. It's beautiful, real (flawed and all), and fantastic.
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AMAZING!
Overall rating 
 
4.7
Plot 
 
5.0
Characters 
 
5.0
Writing Style 
 
4.0

Laia is just a normal girl, well as normal as a Scholar could be in this world. Least she wasn't a slave. Still, it's a very dark world. Life is not fun here. The Scholar's were overtaken and enslaved by the Martials. A brutal, vile people.

She's left without her family one night after a raid. Her grandmama and grandpapa were killed and her older brother was taken in the raid. She goes to the Scholar Rebellion and demands that they break her brother out since she thought he was working with them.

The leader says he will help her on one condition, she becomes a spy in the worst place ever, for the worst person ever but through that she meets Elias...

Elias is a Martial, he was breed for death. To be a solider that does nothing but kill or rape. Just horrid things. All this for the glory of the Empire.

Our two little lovelies end up crossing paths and find themselves drawn to each other but also others... this is my one gripe with this books. There are two love triangles... yeah two. Not cool. I don't like that at all. I just wish there was Laia and Elias. That would be good enough and fill my need for romance perfectly.

This world is not a nice place, it's one of the darkest places I've ever read about. There is hardly any hope, anything happy in this world. That being said, I could not get enough. I loved this book so much.

The end is something I did see coming, it was pretty easy to guess. That didn't make it any less good, I often see plot twists and still enjoy a book greatly.

There is also diverse characters in this book which is awesome! This book was so hyped and everyone wanted to read it and it has diverse characters! Look people at what we are starting to do! I consider this a major victory.

The writing is flawless, for a debut it's amazing!

I'm trying not to give spoilers and this is all I can really say. If you like dark and brutal worlds, with the smallest amount of hope. If you like character driven books and slight romance, then this is for you.

I also love the voices they used for the characters. It really helped me envelop inside the story. I can't stand audio books that have horrid narration. So not only do I recommend this book but this audio book as well. It's great!
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A YA fantasy take on Ancient Rome
(Updated: September 14, 2016)
Overall rating 
 
4.3
Plot 
 
4.0
Characters 
 
4.0
Writing Style 
 
5.0
The first book in what is sure to be an incredible fantasy series was an historical adventure from the perspective of two very different people. Based on Ancient Rome, the evil Martial Empire has conquered almost the entire known world and Laia is one of the latest victims. Her grandparents murdered and brother imprisoned, Laia goes on the run from the Mask that destroyed her life and seeks refuge with the Resistance, members of the slaved Scholar Class that still fight against the Martial regime. On the opposite side of the social hierarchy, Elias is the finest soldier at Blackcliff Academy, who is days away from graduating as a Mask and becoming an assassin-for-hire. Instead of celebrating with the rest of his class, Elias has plans to desert the school – his life – and spend the remainder of his days on the run.

This book has everything: fantastic world-building, complex characters and enthralling action. There are so many twists, surprises and the characters are forced to make difficult choices. It’s basically psychological torment for many of these characters, and very interesting to experience.

(warning: spoilers below)

The strongest part of this novel by far is the world-building. Tahir has gone above and beyond here to create a distinct fantasy world. The history is rich, modeled on Ancient Rome. It’s refreshing to read about a YA world where the pleasant side of life and go-happy people is set aside for more realistic elements, such as rape and slavery. Oppression, the importance of education, loyalty vs. free will, power, and right vs. wrong are just some of the themes the novel deals with and the discussion involved in important. This is such a powerful novel in incorporating dozens of themes in the background of the main plot. This is the mark of a very talented writer. Major props to Sabaa Tahir.

The story itself is told from two perspectives: Laia and Elias. They are both very different characters, who both show strength, power and independence in distinct ways. At the beginning of the novel, Laia is a frightened seventeen year old girl who’s world has been destroyed. When she joins the Resistance, their leader convinces her to spy on the Commandant of Blackcliff Academy and then they will rescue her brother from prison. Under the torture and grueling treatment from the Commandant, Laia really comes into her own. She grows from a shy, terrified young girl into a strong-willed, determined woman. Elias is the best soldier the school as seen in decades, and the heir to the powerful, proud and wealthy Veturius clan. He, along with the other students at the Academy, has suffered through years of life-threatening training and he no longer wants anything to do with the Martial Empire. He is ready to leave everything behind: his title, his family and his best friend, Helene. That is, until, the Empire’s perennial prophecy is finally set to be completed.

According to the Augurs, when the current Emperor’s family can no longer produce heirs, four Academy students will be chosen to compete in a series of trials against each other, where the winner will be named Emperor and the runner-up as the Emperor’s right-hand man. The other two will be executed. Elias, Helene and their mortal enemies, Marcus and Zak (twins) have been chosen as the four contestants.

The two protagonists do not actually have much contact with each other: Laia is trying to complete her mission and spy on the murderous Commandant – who just so happens to be Elias’ mother – and Elias must compete in the dangerous trials and fight for his life, as well as Helene’s. The only times they really spend time together is when Elias follows Laia when she sneaks out of the Academy to meet her contacts in the Resistance and they dance together at a festival; and when Elias wins Laia as a ‘prize’ and they spend the night talking together. In fact, and this is a rarity in YA fiction, the protagonists actually have other love interests, something I hardheartedly enjoy and accept. Elias starts to develop feelings for Helene, who has been his best friend for years, and is even more confused when he discovers she is in love with him. I absolutely adored their relationship and I really, with all my heart, hope they find a way to be together at the end. Laia, too, has a blossoming romance with a Resistance member, which I really enjoyed watching develop. I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that Tahir will introduce Elias and Laia as a couple in the sequel, which I do not want to happen. For the first time in … forever, I am not shipping main characters as love interests and I think I will be disappointed if Laia and Elias get together.

So much happens in this novel: its fast-paced, action packed and engrossing. The final scenes of the novel where so surprising I spent the last hour gasping aloud. The third trial was so terrifying and heartbreaking I had to put the book aside for a good ten minutes before I could pick it up again. It really reinforced the depravity and evil of the Martial Empire. The final trial was too easy to be true, and I was actually rooting for Elias to do what needed to be done. Essentially, whoever kills Laia will be crowned Emperor. Helene knocks out Marcus and begs Elias to kill Laia, so he would be crowned Emperor and she would become his second-in-command, the Blood Shrike. He chose not to, and Marcus was able to kill Laia (supposedly) and became Emperor, Helene his Blood Shrike. After Elias is arrested, Laia rescues him and they are forced to go on the run, setting up for events of the sequel.

When I finished this book, I thought that the novel would have been better off without Laia; perhaps a story about a young man becoming king instead. Laia was a great character, don’t get me wrong, but I did not enjoy her chapters as much as Elias’. That being said, I am very excited to read the sequel. I was rooting for Elias becoming Emperor and making Helene his Queen, so I wonder where Tahir will take us in A Torch Against the Night. So long as the series ends with Elias on the throne, I’ll be happy.
Good Points
Check out my blog and other reviews here: www.thebookcorps.wordpress.com
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A fantasy spin on a Roman empire world
Overall rating 
 
4.3
Plot 
 
5.0
Characters 
 
4.0
Writing Style 
 
4.0
Looooooved this book. I devoured each page. Savored every word. The writing is gorgeous. The characters are flawed but sympathetic. I really enjoyed the fantasy spin on a Roman empire world. It. Was. Intense.

This is probably one of my favorite mainstream YA fantasy reads in awhile.

Highly recommended.
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This is not a happy review, you guys. Not at all.
(Updated: July 03, 2015)
Overall rating 
 
3.3
Plot 
 
2.0
Characters 
 
3.0
Writing Style 
 
5.0
When you’ve been anticipating a book for months, when you’ve been chanting the countdown to its release, hell, when you’ve pre-ordered it a lifetime ago, you have certain expectations from the book. And seriously, people. Look at the cover. The synopsis. A brutal YA with a roman-esque setting, with everything from a slave girl fighting for her brother to the most unlikely of love stories, this book was just set up to be a hit with its audience. So what went wrong?

For starters, hats off to the author for the world that she has built in AEITA. Not only is it lush and intense, it is also something that can be defined as “realistic.” I felt the pain of the characters from this world, felt their fury, felt their helplessness. But I also felt the motivation of the Masks and their military attitude and their blind loyalty to the Empire. And that was spectacular. To be completely immersed in a book is one thing, but to dread everything that would happen to its characters (especially when I wasn’t too impressed by them) is a completely different story. The Ember world is brutal and unforgiving. It is pretty much a nightmare to be living in and I think that is what the author wanted to convey. So on the world-building, I have no complains. I could have not asked for anything better.

My major problem lies in the plot. Having read the book a few days ago, having slept on it and given myself the time and space to thoroughly think about it, I have recognised my major issue about AEITA to be the plot itself. Keeping the world in all its brutality and uniqueness aside, I wouldn’t say that too much happened in the book. The book charts roughly a month and a half, if I’m not mistaken, and literally nothing happens. Sure, Elias and Laia’s lives take a complete one eighty but apart from that, I wouldn’t say anything substantial, with respect to the outside world, happened. And since there are just two POVs (Elias and Laia’s) really, all we could see was how their world was affected. And that sucks because AEITA is a fantasy and I want to be able to know what’s happening in the world around them too.

Some reviewers have also spoken about rape being used as a plot device and you’ll get no denial from me. Rape has been used to move the plot along too many times and as a reader, I didn’t appreciate that at all. But, keeping in mind that the world the book is based in is not ours, I’m willing to let this pass. The author has tried her best to remain faithful in every aspect of the book’s world, and if rape was such an undeniable part of that society, then she has done nothing but show it as it was. Again, not a very pleasant thing to read but I think that in order to understand the atmosphere of the book and the plight of the characters in it, a reader needs to accept certain things about the book the way they are.

The writing was what really took it off for me. Had AEITA been written by anyone less talented in storytelling than Sabaa Tahir, I may not even have read the book in its entirety. Not only was the writing descriptive and evoking imagery at every turn, it felt like the writing of an author who has honed her craft. Absolutely spell-binding, coming from a debutante. If nothing else, then read the book only because Sabaa Tahir is amazingly eloquent when she wants to be and mysteriously eluding when she wants to keep a secret. And needless to say, AEITA has a lot of secrets.



SPOILERS AHEAD

The reason I haven’t talked about the characters in the non-spoilers review at all is because A) I don’t trust myself not to give away something huge and B) Even though I was not very impressed by the book, I didn’t want to completely discourage people from reading the book.

Let’s just cut to the chase. I didn’t like Elias and Laia together. There was no spark, no chemistry, nothing that even makes me think that these two will ever have true love between them. Not only did I feel that their romance was a mere plot device (which itself was a fail, because there really was no romance yet) I also didn’t quite understand what Elias saw in Laia. She’s a strong, resilient girl that I loved, but what made her stand apart to Elias? Why would he go against the Commandant and risk his life more than once for a slave girl? I do feel like Elias would have “fallen” for any girl in her place. So. No spark there AT ALL. Needless to say, I’m not getting onboard the Laia and Elias ship. EVER.

But you know a ship I might be shipping? Laia and Keenan. Keenan I absolutely loved. He was confused and scared and concerned for this complete stranger girl that he had an urge to protect. And he didn’t have to show any outward concerns. Certain reactions that he had that Laia caught were enough to show how hard and fast he fell for her. I’d go so far as to say that Keenan was a completely different person by the end of the book. Far removed from the arrogant prick that he was in the beginning, I just ended up feeling sorry for him by the end because he’d fallen in love with Laia and NOPE NOT HAPPENING BUDDY BACK AWAY SLOWLY.

Helene was another character I’d like to have seen more of. She was mysterious and unapologetic and strong and unfailingly faithful. I wish I could say that she would have been great with Elias but nope. I honestly don’t think highly enough about Elias to wish him a happy ending with Helene. While he was cowardly and whiny, Helene was courageous and a fighter. My heart was breaking for her at the end and gah. WHY DOES ALWAYS HAPPEN TO MY FAVOURITE CHARACTERS WHY WHY WHY.

All in all, read it for the writing, is all. Nothing more. The world, certain characters are just cherries on the cake.
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