Sunday, 21 February 2016

Review || An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1) by Sabaa Tahir ★★☆☆☆
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.

2.5 stars. Deceived by the hype-monster again.

I tried to do everything right here. I waited for the unbelievable hype to die down. I didn't set my expectations too high. But in the end, this fell flat for me anyway.

The Roman-esque flavour of the worldbuilding here was definitely a selling point, and the magic and mythology intriguing, but it never fully came alive in the way I'd hoped. It felt like a duller version of the world from The Winner's Curse, to be honest. (Which, read that book instead anyway, please.)

It was this detached quality to the writing that carried over to the characters as well. I never found the "chemistry" between Elias and Laia believable, even as the book was all but forcing them together for the plot (quite literally). It was really only in the last 20-30 pages that I felt anything for any of the characters at all. And even that was tempered by a dire situation that turned into a bluff. Which. Come on.

And what's worse, is sometimes this book felt like work. Like I was plodding along trying to get to the good stuff. Like we were just spinning our wheels going nowhere in the name of "set up". Things finally picked up once the Trials started, but that was a good third of the way in.

There were times when I could see a glimmer of something more. Times when Tahir was trying to tease out some interesting commentary about the world she'd built. And then it was snatched away again just as quickly.

I will say, the last section of the book improved quite a bit and is responsible for the extra half star I've given here. But even that is a little bit soured by the fact that there is so much more to be done in the sequel. This was supposed to be a standalone when it first came out, but there's no way that ending was ever really meant to stand on its own. And I'm interested enough that I might be convinced to pick up the sequel. But I'm not sure. I might just be as happy reading spoilers online later. We'll see.