An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The beginning was the most difficult time for me. I had the most horrible suspicion that we were only going to get a fantasy knock off of the Hunger Games mixed with a bit more GrimDark elements than we usually get in a YA novel.
I can't tell you just how relieved I was when it spun out of that orbit and became a rich tapestry of characters, plot twists, and an exploration of what it means to be free.
Sure, we've got a lot of budding and fraught romance elements, too, and mommy dearest was one of those little extreme pleasures that makes my head swim with just how Evil she is, but all of that takes a distant back seat to the plot. I honestly had a hard time getting into it for the first third of the novel until right about that time when the Augers started making everyone's lives extremely difficult, and then I settled in comfortably for a nice ride.
The trials weren't too onerous, and I could sympathize well with Elias's desire to get the hell out, even if it meant becoming Emperor to do it. The fact that he was willing to give up everything in order to NOT cross that line just made him a real hero in my eyes, no matter how horrible the consequences. I really liked Helene. She had her own cross to bear, and it was no less interesting than Elias's, and the revelation of that one was both a comfort and a delicious source of pain we can revisit endlessly in the upcoming novels.
Laia also came into her own nicely, and it wasn't a moment too soon. Her story was merely becoming a long line of abused trust and a strange orbiting of Elias. The moment she got her agency and took control over her life was the moment I fairly cheered aloud, much to the consternation of my little daughter, who thought I had stubbed my toe.
Perhaps I had, but I had stubbed my toe on the entire book. It was painful some of the time, and definitely annoying at the beginning, but it certainly made me perk up and pay attention to where I was going afterwards.
I'll just say one thing. MAGIC IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. I loved all the hints and the history of it, though, and the old stories were some of the best in the entire novel. It's a lighthouse for the future of the story, I bet. In the meantime, let's see where this little ember of a revolution will take us, shall we?
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