Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

When soldiers come at dawn to arrest her brother for treason, Laia is forced to go underground in search of help. However, the resistance refuses to save her brother unless she disguises herself as a slave and spies on the Commandant, leader of the Empire’s military academy. Here, she meets the reluctant and skilled soldier Elias. As he competes to become the new Emperor, they find that their goals align.

(I had the hardest time writing the summary for this book, but I finally cranked it out. This was seriously the hardest part of this review to write.)

I’m sure Penguin was pushing tons of money into the marketing for Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes because it was one of those books that all the YA bloggers were talking about. I feel pretty ambivalently about this. While I’m sure I will read the sequel, I’m not all that invested in the political unrest that this was setting up. This is yet another 3-star review, which makes me feel like a very picky reader.

While I liked certain aspects of the book, there wasn’t much I loved. I resented the existence of a love triangle. I cared a little bit about Elias, but couldn’t bring myself to care about Laia, her brother, or the resistance. I couldn’t get a good grasp on the visuals of this world (it’s based on the Roman Empire, but Laia’s clothes sound almost Victorian sometimes). That said, I’ll share the aspects I enjoyed.

The strength of this book was in the competition for the Emperor’s seat. I love any sort of task or a test in a book. Each time a new test was starting, I couldn’t wait to see what strange obstacles would be in Elias’ way. The third task in particular was great because it was really dark and painful. If you didn’t think this society was flawed and cruel, you certainly did after the third test.

One of the most amazingly disturbing aspects of this book was the existence of masks (disclaimer: I didn’t find the majority of the book disturbing, but it was amazing how certain little details didn’t sit well with you). Elite soldiers who constantly wear masks is creepy enough, but the fact that they’re metallic masks that bind to the face makes them even creepier. It’s such an unsettling indicator of loyalty.

While it wasn’t my favorite YA book of this year, An Ember in the Ashes was still entertaining. At almost 450 pages, it’s a bit of a time investment, but worth it if you want to join in on the conversation.

Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Publisher: Razorbill
My rating: ☆☆ (3 stars)
Recommended for: fans of the Hunger Games. Cruel alternate world, a fair amount of death, some light rebellion. They have some things in common.

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