Months ago I won a copy of An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir in an online giveaway. After enduring its impatient glare from my bookshelf for as long as I could, I finally picked it up and gave it the attention that all of the buzz surrounding it suggests it deserves. Unfortunately, this fast-paced fantasy novel left me with more conflicted feelings than I had initially anticipated. It wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t live up to the great expectations that had built up around it– a classic case of a hype monster attack.
What Worked for Me:
+ Significance of the title. All this time I’ve been curious as to what the significance of the title is; fortunately, this becomes obviously clear as the story unfolds and the title is mentioned word for word several times in the novel. (If you’re curious like I was, it refers to the fact that both Elias and Laia are like burning embers in cool ashes, meaning that they have the power to stir things up around them). As a sucker for clever metaphors and double meanings like this, I really enjoyed coming across the literal mentions of the title as applied to both of the main characters.
+ Two narrators. I was pleasantly surprised to find that An Ember in the Ashes is written with chapters alternating between the first person perspectives of Elias and Laia, the two main characters. Using alternating narrators can sometimes be risky, depending on how well they’re executed by the author. Fortunately, Tahir manages to carefully balance the two perspectives in a way that makes the novel more suspenseful and adds depth to Elias and Laia’s “worlds.”
+ Fast-paced, suspenseful plot. Despite my lukewarm feelings about the novel as a whole, I nevertheless managed to fly through it in a single weekend. Coupled with Tahir’s writing style– short, choppy sentences that are easy to read and move quickly– the action-packed plot made this a captivating page-turner. Usually I only fly threw books that I really love, so reading this one so quickly was a strange experience. All I cared about was knowing how it was going to end. (To be honest, part of me also probably just wanted to get it over with as soon as possible.)
What Didn’t Work for Me:
– Dual love triangles. One love triangle is usually bad enough– but two? Not only were they completely unnecessary, but they take away from the seriousness of the overall plot. It was jarring to read a passage about Elias struggling with his inner conflict about being a trained killer right next to a passage about his sudden infatuation with Laia. The biggest problem I have with these love triangles is that at some point they almost began to supersede the overarching plot of the novel; in other words, the romance became the driving motivation behind the plot. I was so disappointed when I noticed this was happening because the initial main plot had great potential to be really interesting if it wasn’t being overshadowed and shoved aside in favor of forced romance.
– Insta-love between Elias and Laia. Speaking of forced romance, the insta-love between Elias and Laia is one of the worst I’ve ever read. Their relationship is basically solely founded on his physical attraction to her. The feeling that this relationship is “forced” is further exacerbated by the presence of the two love triangles because the pairings of Elias/Helene and Laia/Keenan make much more sense (especially Elias/Helene because they have such good chemistry, are best friends, have known each other for years, they actually KNOW each other on a personal level, etc.).
– Problematic objectification of female characters. Physical attractiveness seems the most important quality of women in this novel, particularly regarding Laia’s relationship with Elias. Moreover, rape is offhandedly mentioned several times in this novel and it almost seems as though the threat of sexual assault is used as a device to forward the plot. Was Tahir planning on addressing how problematic that is?
Overall, what promised to be a fantastic fantasy story left me with conflicted feelings and the sour taste of disappointment. Though An Ember in the Ashes is certainly a gripping read, its fast pace could not make up for the many problems that plague this text.
Would I recommend it to a friend?: To be honest, probably not. There are so many fantastic books out there that I would not want someone to waste their time on something that is only meh.
What are your thoughts on this novel? Have you read the sequel? How do you deal with conflicted feelings and disappointment about hyped books? Let me know in the comments section below!