Friday, October 7, 2016

An Ember in Ashes

Posted by A Drop of Romeo at 2:00 PM

Age: Young Adult, Adult
Category: Fantasy, romance
Rating: 4.5 stars

Rosie Thinks: Laia's life is thrown into disarray when the Empire's ruthless elite warriors kill her grandparents and arrest her brother for treason, leaving her to flee. With nowhere else to go, she makes a deal with the rebels working to free their people from the Empire's violent grip: she will spy on the commander of their greatest military school in exchange for the rebels freeing her brother. The story is told in Laia's perspective, but alternates with Elias, the school's best soldier who will do anything to get away from his brutal and cold life there.

I had big expectations for this book. It caught my eye a few months ago, before it was published - an incredible blurb, plus an Ancient Rome inspired world?! Um, yes please. For the first time in a while, this book lived up to my expectations! What really caught me at the beginning was the characterisation of Laia. We are presented with this girl who is ruled by her fear, yet possesses a determination she doesn't even realise. Her weakness at the beginning cut at me and, yes, made me a bit frustrated, but I couldn't wait to see how she would grow. Everywhere in YA books, there are kickass heroines who can master their fear and refuse to run from any situation (Katniss from Hunger Games, Celaena from Throne of Glass, Katsa from Graceling, I could go on for a while). These are all fine and good, but you rarely see a character like Laia who is so strangled by her fear at the beginning. Honestly, she acted in a way I could see myself acting like in that situation, and that made me empathise with her all the more. Elias's character development wasn't as obvious as Laia's, but he still made for a good person to read about. The insights he gives into his world were breathtaking and showed the creative world Tahir created. Elias is the best warrior the school has seen in two decades, yet he has plans to desert the day after graduation - this situation also seriously intrigued me.

The whole storyline was fast-paced and gripping and, at times, downright evil. The villains are numerous and realistic, and even the Elias's sociopathic mother is made out to be human, not some kind of caricature. One of my pet hates is when a villain is just evil for the sake of being evil, with no real substance behind him/her. A book becomes immeasurably better, in my opinion, when the villain becomes human, with motivations and fears and goals that you can understand. This is what the truly frightening villains have. Marcus, Elias's schoolmate nemesis, was a bit of a Draco Malfoy-style bully at the beginning, but even he began to get a bit fleshed out towards the end. Speaking of, all the supporting characters were just incredible. Each of them played important roles and kept the plot rolling forward at a breakneck pace.

The only problem I had with this book were the unfortunate hints of a love triangle in the middle, for both main characters. I will first say this, though: this novel is fantasy first, and romance more as a side-note. There is a romantic underlying to it, but the plot is moved forward by the action and characters, rather than revolving around the romance. However, I found Laia's 'heart wanting one guy and body the other' (not actual quote) to be unnecessary and annoying. However, I'm just being picky. If you're like me and hate love triangles, don't be put off - this is only annoying in a handful of scenes.

But otherwise, this novel is flawless. It is dark and enthralling, and made me blow off all plans so I could finish it within a day. It captures a true journey of human spirit, and I can't wait for the sequel next year. I can see this becoming one of the must-read YA novels of the year. Definitely recommend!


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