An Ember in the Ashes (Sabaa Tahir)

I’m not sure whether how I feel about An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir is due to reading most of it while seriously sleep deprived in a New York airport at 2am, or due to the plot of the book itself. My opinion of the first book in the Ember Quartet is that its a bit meh. Which is, of course, not an entirely professional way of describing a book, but it is the most appropriate for me in this instance.

An Ember in the Ashes follows two individuals in a desert society. Laia is a slave of the Scholar class, while Elias is a soldier of the highest calibre of the Martial class in the Martial Empire. Both are looking to break free. Elias doesn’t want to be an assassin, Laia just wants to be able to live free of fear. The sections alternate between Laia and her attempts to free her brother from Martial prison (ending up with the Rebellion), and Elias being trained as a “Mask”, the highest honour and how he is disgusted with himself and his role in life. The both end up at Blackcliff, the Empire’s finest Military – Laia is finding secrets to free her brother, and Elias is in a competition to be the most powerful man in the Empire.

Apparently this book is based on the brutality of Ancient Rome, combined with the tales of Jinn and desert magic. The slaves are treated awfully, and not even allowed literacy skills. They disappear in the dead of night. On the other hand, the students of Blackcliff are in a brutal training regime that kills many of them before their fifteenth birthday, and if they are luck enough to survive, escape means death. Simple as. It’s lots of holding thoughts deep inside and not letting them show on your face because it could mean an axe taking your head off. Both the main characters are struggling with their place in the world.

Guess what -when they meet sparks fly. Who’d have guessed. Honestly I think my biggest problem with this book was ambivalence. I didn’t feel emotionally connected to the characters, and the plot was just a bit…lacklustre. I can’t explain it. Herein lies my confusion as to whether my ambivalence, and thoroughly literary classification as meh, is due to exhaustion or the book itself. The book is divided between two characters -which is fine, I love multiple viewpoints – and it divided into tasks – ok, fair enough – with magic sand-dwelling apparitions – okay….- and some strange Romeo and Juliet-esque relationship between two characters with the added bonus of slave/master dynamic. Oh, and there was not one, but two love triangles! Joy of joys. Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that the trope I roll my eyes at the most is the Unnecessary Love Triangle. This Book Has Two. Perhaps therein lies my frustration.

The average review on Goodreads for this book is 4.23, and many of the reviews I saw were profuse in their praise. I was expecting a fascinating story, but I found that it was hard to focus on the characters and the plot and the mysteries (hence the was I too tired??) and the more I tried to engage with the plot, and the emotional connections between the characters, I harder I found it to enjoy the book.

It’s a fair enough book, well written, with an interesting enough plot and irritating main characters, but it was only fair enough. I felt the action rose and fell, but it just never quite reached high enough for me. It also ends on a cliffhanger with many questions left unanswered, and I haven’t worked out is there are going to be sequels, and whether or not I’m going to read them.

I am planning to get back onto my usual posting schedule but I have a pesky case of book slump. I’m currently reading a non-fiction book about Amazons that I am enjoying, but I’m spending my evenings watching Warehouse 13 over reading. So, hopefully I’ll be back on schedule next week.



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