I got this book on the recommendation of a good friend who had read the first few chapter and suggested that I get it too so we could read it together as a kind of book club type deal. This resulted in a great bonding experience with my friend, and one of the most frustrating reading experiences of my life. You see my friend also happened to move to California with a new roommate, new job, everything. Which meant that she had very little time for reading. It typically doesn’t take me more than a few days to read a book because once I start I want to know how it ends, but it took me probably a month to read all the way through An Ember in the Ashes because I kept having to wait for my friend to catch up, but the fact that I was interested enough to keep reading the book over such an extended period is a strong indication that it’s a good book.
After some discussion my friend and I decided, based on some of the cultural elements as well as the lore and such that are relevant in the novel, that this book is set in a fictionalized and fantasized middle east. In that vein, there is a lot of interesting world building and history that goes into the story, particularly the magical elements and creatures. Basically the fictional land that the story takes place in was conquered a long time ago by the Martials, a type of warrior people who used their superior weaponry to defeat the Scholar people who were previously the ruling power. The Scholars ruled with knowledge, and, if I remember right, they had gotten their knowledge by tricking the Jinn (who are magical creatures) into sharing it with them and then using it against them so that they could rule the land. Now the Martials ruthlessly rule over the Scholars who are so down trodden that their is only a very small underground resistance. Enter our two heroes: Laia, the beautiful but haunted girl whose whole family has boon destroyed by the Martials, and Elias the Martial born boy who was raised by the wandering tribes until the Martials’ holy men chose him to attend the brutal Black Cliff military academy. Laia is a scared and broken girl on a desperate mission given to her by the resistance in hopes that they will help her rescue her brother, her only remaining family, from a Martial prison, and Elias is a vicious warrior with a soft heart who only wants to be free from is bloody destiny. Naturally the two meet, have instant chemistry, and both complicate each others lives and help each other, etc.
Okay, so right of the bat I was skeptical of this book because it’s one of those that switches back and forth between the perspectives of the main characters. Normally I can’t stand that because I always greatly prefer one of the characters and the other chapters end up just annoying me. Not so with Tahir’s book. Well it’s true that I did prefer Laia’s chapters and look forward to them most, I actually liked Elias and his chapters enough that I wasn’t just rushing to get through them. I think part of the reason why I liked the way Tahir did it was because the chapters weren’t entirely separate. A lot of times with books like this I find that the different perspectives are taking place half a world away from each other, but in this book Laia and Elias each feature centrally in each others chapters and the chapters sometimes even cover the same time period (fortunately not too often because that would have been really tiresome).
I really liked how this book kept me guessing. I mean, yes, there was some stuff that was fairly predictable, but for the most part I was never really sure what was going to happen next, and I must say that I particularly appreciated the ending of the book and how it set up the sequel. I really like both Laia and Elias, both of them grow a lot during the book, they have their flaws, but, ultimately, they now what they want and they fight for it which was really nice.
There are a lot of good things about An Ember in the Ashes, but, as always, there were flaws as well. Laia and Elais have both had really tough lives, and they aren’t getting any easier. Tahir seems to be one of those authors who isn’t happy if her characters aren’t suffering. Like a lot. I mean a lot. Like seriously. It was really excessive. Honestly it got to the point where I almost didn’t care about whatever they were going through because it got to be so much that it was just ridiculous. I felt like Tahir was trying to force me to sympathize with her characters by making them go through unimaginable physical, emotional, and psychological torment.
The other thing that I think bothered me most was that there seemed to me to be some inconsistency between what an amazing warrior Elias was, with all the rigorous physical and mental training he was supposed to have gone through, and what I saw actually taking place in the story. I mean yeah, he kicked a lot of butt, but there were times that I was like “okay, you just said that Elias is incredible at such and such like three chapter ago, but if he’s so amazing why did such and such just happen to him, or why wasn’t he able to do such and such?” You know what I mean? The last thing that I want to mention that I really didn’t like about this novel was the whole love triangle thing that Tahir has got going on. Two of them actually. Or maybe that would be classified as a love square? I’m not really sure. Anyway, there are four people all in love with each other, or not sure whether they love each other, or not sure who they should love, etc. Maybe this is a personal thing, but I just can’t stand love triangles. They annoy me right from the get go. Most of the time its completely obvious who the main character will end up with anyway so I’m not even sure what the point is. But I digress.
My final thought is that this is a solid book with plenty of adventure, romance, and lots of interesting magical and historical elements that I’m eager to see develop in the sequel. Definitely worth a read if you like fantasy novels. 4/5 stars.