An Ember in the Ashes
by Sabaa Tahir
So, my feelings about it were really mixed. In the end, I think I did sort of like it, but it took a long time to get to that point.Summary: Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.
For the first 250 or so pages, I wasn't really into the book much. It wasn't bad, I just felt frustrated with it and it took a long time to feel connected to the characters and invested in what was happening to them (it took about a week to drag through the first half, then I sped through the second half in a few hours).
I think, maybe, one of the problems I had was the alternating POV's? I don't like that in general -- I've said this before, but it really is one of my biggest book pet peeves. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does feel necessary, but I still prefer books not to do it. I'm not sure if I'd have picked the book up if I'd known it was dual narration.
The problem was, just as I'd start to feel like I was getting into the story and warming up to a character, it'd switch to the other POV and that happened over and over and over again until more than halfway through the book when their story became more entwined. Which basically made it take much longer for the book and characters to hook me, and by the time it did it was too late for it to have a big emotional impact (e.g. upsetting things happen in the book but it wasn't even close to making me cry, it didn't feel like it got under my skin much at all really). Plus, there was quite a few annoying cliff hanger chapters.
That is my issue, not necessarily a problem with the book -- I just wanted to make that clear. Because as far as alternating POV's goes, this one wasn't badly done, it's just not something I personally enjoy (with few exceptions) and that was probably a big part of a reason that a big chunk of the book was a chore for me to get through.
But, after I got past that point, I did start to really enjoy the story. The relationships were wonderfully complex, the characters weren't your typical heroes that are heroic from the start (I did love that -- although Laia's naiveté bugged me a bit and her self deprecation got kind of repetitive), the world was interesting, the writing was great... It had all the makings of a 5 star book for me, I just wasn't feeling it.
In the end, I'd say I rate it 2.5 stars out of 5. Maybe rounded up to 3, because I think it's fairer to judge it by the positive feelings I had by the end of the book rather than let the rating be dragged down too much by the issues I had with it early on.