Reviews

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir: Review

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,┬ábased 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.

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Reviews

The Wicked Will Rise by Danielle Paige (Dorothy Must Die Series, book 2): Review

There will be some spoilers in the following post.

This second book in Paige’s series picks up right where the first book left of, with Amy fleeing after a failed attempt to kill Dorothy and take back Oz. With their plan unsuccessful and Dorothy in the wind, The Revolutionary Order of the Wicked isn’t doing so well. In fact, Amy can’t seem to find any of the other members. Can you guess what she spends most of the novel trying to do? The Wicked Will Rise
follows Amy as she tries to track down the missing members of the order, while also collection the magical items the Wizard told her she would need in order to kill Dorothy, all while trying to contend with the dark magic that is taking her over bit by bit. Sort of anyway.

I have as many or more issues with book two as I had with book one in this series. We have all of the same reoccurring issues, for example, how every time Amy comes up against a challenge that she doesn’t know how to handle something magical happens and she can “somehow”just do what ever needs to be done, and acquires a handy new magical ability in the process. As a result Amy pretty much never has to actually work for anything, and two-thirds of the way through the trilogy I still can’t get myself to feel invested in Amy as a character. Her successes are magically handed to her, she has very little, if any control over what’s going on around her and her emotional turmoil seems cheap in consequence. In this novel Paige seems to be trying to make use of the every-time-I-need-Amy-to-make-progress-or-the-plot-too-move-ahead-I’m-gonna-make-it-happen-magically-with-no-apparent-cause-or-effort-on-Amy’s-part plot device by making these inexplicable magical interventions and breakthroughs of a darkly magical nature. Basically Amy finds herself tapping into incredibly dark magical forces, the same magical forces that Dorothy used to take over Oz, without knowing why or how, but, hey, they work so she uses them. All the while she worries about what these dark powers mean and weather she could end up being corrupted by them like Dorothy was, but, again, her struggle never seems authentic to me. I think that Paige made a valiant effort to redeem her prodigious use of such a repetitive plot device by trying to turn it into a means for character development, but she doesn’t succeed. Which leads us to another issue common between this novel and the last.

We spend so much of this novel wandering in circles inside Amy’s head. It seems to me that Paige’s writing style is stuck somewhere between close first person and all knowing narrator, and the combination really doesn’t work. It leads to Amy instinctively knowing things whenever she needs to know them for no apparent reason except that she needs to for the plot to move along, and, worse, we get stuck in these endlessly repetitive loops of thoughts in Amy’s head. First, she struggles with the dark magic that she suddenly finds herself wielding, then she decides that as long as she has it she might as well use it even though it’s dangerous, because of some trauma, hardship, etc. from her past that makes her realize that she is a strong person who knows who she is, unlike Dorothy. Until the next crisis comes around and then she starts all over again. It gets tiresome very quickly.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand what Paige is trying to do with this story, but her execution just isn’t there yet. To be honest, I know I’m probably being a bit overly critical here, but it’s because a lot of the issues that I see constantly popping up in Paige’s writing are a lot of the same issues that have when I write, and that I have put a lot of hard work into becoming aware of and training myself not to do. It’s just something that I’m so aware of at this point that I can’t not notice it. I do realize though that I am not being completely fair, because there is a lot of good stuff in the novel too.

Paige has a lot of really good magical elements that help bring to life a unique and beautiful Oz. Some of her characters, like Lulu, Pete, and Ozma, are really interesting, and the plot is one that I find highly interesting. There are some elements that have been predictable, but, for the most part, at least in the big ways, I really don’t know what’s going to happen next and I want to find out. That’s what really keeps me reading at this point. What is the origin of Oz? Are we going to find out more about these mysterious faeries that have been discussed? What will happen with Ozma? What exactly has the Wizard’s role been in all this? It’s these questions that are going to keep me reading through the final book in the series.

I’ll give this the same 3/5 as I gave the previous book in the series. I’m tempted to give it a lower rating, but the interesting plot and beautiful magical elements redeemed it somewhat. This series has it’s issues, but it’s a fast read and good if you want a bit a break from harder or more complex novels.