This book has been covered by several other bloggers and has received glowing reviews from most of them – I’m here to co-sign everything positive that has already been said about this book! I’m typing this review from the sky as I fly from Chicago (for a Thanksgiving visit to my partner) to San Diego (for work). When I fly, I always become reflective on life things because I’m usually visiting or leaving loved ones. For this flight, I decided to reflect on the nature of the Young Adult books I’ve been consuming this year as they relate to my most recent read.
Lately I’ve found myself disconnected and annoyed with most of the YA that I’ve encountered. Up until this moment, I’ve largely thought the disconnection I’ve felt when I read YA is because of my life stage: I’m no longer a teen and perhaps I emphasize less with the typical situations that tend to dominate the lives and stories of teenagers. In actuality, I think I’ve actually become more of a critical reader and am less forgiving to authors and their stories if I find them to be poorly constructed or lacking complex character development.
When I was younger, even if I didn’t completely enjoy a book, reading excited me so much that I was able to dismiss flaws that would irk me now. Now that my free time isn’t endless, I simply become annoyed when a book has wasted my time. An Ember in the Ashes did the opposite of wasting my time – at the conclusion of the novel, I was left wanting even more of the story! Unfortunately for me, no sequels to the novel have been released yet, but the internet tells me the author is developing the sequel!
The audiobook version of An Ember in the Ashes is absolutely riveting! Each chapter shifts back and forth between the points of view of two of the main characters and the audiobook version features two equally talented narrators weaving their tales together. I’ve been disappointed with other audiobooks featuring multiple narrators (I detest All the Bright Places by Jennifer Nevin), but this novel is a champion of what dual audiobook performances should aspire to emulate! The novel rotates between the perspective of two main characters, Laia, voiced by Fiona Hardingham, and Elias, voiced by Steve West.
Laia is a member of the Scholars, which is essentially the lowest caste of the society in the book. After her life is completely turned upside down at the beginning of the book and she is separated from her family, she must seek help from the Resistance. The Resistance is a group who disagrees with the existing system of power in the Martial Empire (land where the book takes place). The Resistance is attempting to disempower the Martial Empire’s leaders and high-ranking members of the Martials, the highest caste. In order to gain assistance with finding her separated brother and respect from the Resistance, Laia poses as a slave and unexpectedly learns some of her own family history along the way. When Laia is sold into slavery, she becomes a servant to a terrible, cruel leader known as the Commandant who is part of the Martial caste.
The Commandant is hated by most of the servants and by her son, Elias, a member of the elite Martials and a top student at Blackcliff Military Academy. Elias is the other main character and provides an inside look at how the Martials lives and how members of the Martials reinforce their systems of power. Elias is very critical of the Martials and harbors a strong desire to defect from his obligations as a member of the Martials. As one of the top students at Blackcliff, he and three other students are being considered candidates for emperor of the Martial Empire. Of course because of Empire’s desire to maintain its systems of power, democratic elections for emperor don’t exist and the four top students must battle to determine who will be crowned as the next emperor.
Along the way Elias and Laia’s stories begin to intertwine because of their connection to the Commandant. Throughout the novel, they come to realize that they share common interests and might be able to work together to accomplish their individual goals. While some authors withhold narrative depth until the two narrators come together, Tahir has woven an interesting tale from the very first page to the last (or in my case, very first to the last minute of audio).
The ending is a digestible cliffhanger, meaning it felt like a natural, exciting end for the first novel in a series. When I finished listening to the book, I was hungry for the next installment, but didn’t feel as if I was deprived of essential parts that would complete the story.
An Ember in the Ashes is a brilliant debut from Sabaa Tahir and I’ll be quick to gobble down her novels as they’re released. My fingers are crossed that they’re able to use the same narrators for additional books as the series continues.