An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir


I went into this book with average expectations. I'd heard both good and bad things, so I knew that I could go in either direction. It just so happens that I didn't go in a direction at all. I went right down the middle.

I had read a chapter or two of this book almost a year ago, and I wasn't hooked. It was fine. And it turns out I would feel like that the whole book. Not even the great characters and captivating setting could push it into excellent for me.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do. But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

I loved Laia. She was both weak and strong, and I love characters that balance that dichotomy. I think strong female characters are important, but the idea of strong can vary so much. Laia's physical weakness and fear are what make her so mentally strong and agile. She's unassuming, and afraid of her own failure, but that fear fuels her--fuels her desire to save her brother and her life. And Elias was a strong character too. Elias is the perfect example of how you don't have to mold yourself into the person society or your parents want you to be. You are your own person.

The author made some questionable choices as far as plot points, number one being the romance. <=Why, oh why, did they need to be interested in other people? It's obvious in this type of story that the two characters were going to end up together, so why were they interested in and maybe-half-in-love-with other people? I don't get it.

It took me a while to get into the book. It's not slow or uninteresting, it's just average. It's very similar to other books--Legend popped into my mind pretty easily. There's nothing really special about it. It was amusing and good, but not great. The writing is good and fine, but it isn't bad or magnificent.

Slowly, I started to enjoy it more and more. Still, it's not in my top favorite YA fantasy series--not even close--but it's captivating. It gave me goose-bumps of fear and excitement repeatedly. Every time I picked it up I blew through 100 pages easily. I wanted to know what was going to happen, I was invested in the characters. And I was shocked a lot. It took turns I never saw coming.

I am definitely going to read the sequel. I just hope it impresses me a little bit more than this.

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