Title: AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Laia and Elias, the two character views from which the story is told, both have problems with the current Empire. Yet, both are on separate ends of the spectrum – one a Scholar whose people have been forced into subservience, the other a high born Martial whose duty is to obey without question any command the Empire gives. When Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, she has no choice but to enter the Martial world she fears to attempt his rescue, a move which leads her to Elias and the Fate that connects them.
Tahir is a genius at taking a world foreign to the reader and submerging them until it is all they know. Her prose is sophisticated, sharp, engaging, and still leave room to fill in backstory. I loved the fact that, despite hardly knowing the rules for this universe, there were no info dumps of explanation. Little by little, the logistics took shape through the actions or dialogue of Tahir’s characters. The only reason this book is not a 10 out of 10 is because it is a slightly slow start. Though it began with immediate action, I didn’t find myself getting sucked into the storyline until the first few chapters had passed. Once I got there, though, WHAM! I was entangled.
Somehow, this book has found a way to make a character who emanates self-pity evolve and garner understanding and even acceptance from the reader. I usually hate characters who feel sorry for themselves too much, but Laia has a great progression of overcoming her fears and realizing she is much more than she seems. Elias, in comparison, is hard-edged and secretive from the beginning, but is rounded out with so many human emotions – compassion, friendship, yearning – that he is at once someone you can become fixated on.
Even the secondary characters feel unavoidable. Their placements make sense, and each adds to the plot in a significant way. Except for the character of Zak, who is more of a shadow than flesh. I think this was purposeful, as he is his brother’s less evil twin (can I say that?). Yet, we are provided small insights which are never fleshed out and leave the reader with a question mark over their head. His was the only faltering in getting to know, but he still seemed central to situations.
The Mythological Tie-Ins:
I LOVED how Tahir used fantastical creatures – jinn, efrites, ghouls, just to name a few – and weaved them into the storyline so effortlessly. She practices a totally new view on the storybook creatures, and then blew my mind by making them ESSENTIAL to events. It was so skillfully done, I barely saw it coming, but I feel it is one of her greatest successes in the book.
If you’re not into holding your breath with anxiety until the next in a series is released, this is NOT the book for you. Now that I’ve finished, I can’t believe I have to wait for the story to continue! This is a great blend of action, mythological concepts, and inner morality all disguised as a captivating and enjoyable read. It is long – 446 pages – but you really read it quickly, barely feeling the length. I definitely recommend this novel.