I am one of like 5 people in the world that did NOT like this book. Underdeveloped characters, poor world-building, and extreme violence turned me off so much that I could not get past the first half.
AUTHOR: Sabaa Tahir
SERIES: An Ember in the Ashes, book1
PUBLICATION DATE: April 28, 2015
SOURCE: my library’s OverDrive
GENRE: fantasy, dystopia
SETTING: Martial Empire, time indeterminate
GIVE IT TO: HS
SUMMARY: When Laia’s older brother is captured by the Empire, Laia begs The Rebellion for help in getting him back. The Rebellion leaders agree to help Laia–if she will spy for them. Laia allows herself to be sold as a slave to The Commandant–the brutal leader of the military training academy. As a slave, Laia meets Elias, son of The Commandant and recent academy graduate. Elias is one of four graduates selected to compete in The Trials, the winner of which will become the next Emperor.
REVIEW: Once again, I have been foiled by my own high expectations. I only read about half of this book, and I honestly struggled to get that far.
The characters are stiff, and I didn’t feel any emotional connection at all. I appreciate that Laia is frightened and makes mistakes. She’s trained as an herbalist, not as a fighter. She witnessed her grandparents’ murder. It makes sense that she would be terrified. But that’s about all I know about her–she’s terrified. Elias isn’t much better. He seems ready enough to believe the Augurs’ vision of his future as something unavoidable. Why live at all, if the horrible future is the same no matter what you do?
I didn’t understand the world, either. Where is this place? When? Is it past? Future? Another planet? Why would the academy train so many soldiers? Who is their enemy, if not just each other? Why is the Commandant so evil? She’s just a caricature of evilness for the sake of evilness. What made her that way? How did she ever end up with a child? What is the purpose of the Augurs? Maybe these questions were answered later in the story, the part I didn’t get to.
It’s incredibly violent, and the constant threat of rape is an enormous part of the story. There is some reference or attempt at rape in virtually every chapter. In this story, it seems only pretty girls get raped. Not at all true in reality; rape is about power and control, not who is prettiest. I would think if being ugly were all it took to avoid getting raped–a seemingly inevitable occurrence for the Empire’s pretty girls–female slaves would maim themselves early on to avoid that fate.
Why does The Rebellion think Laia will survive The Commandant’s evil? She’s not special. She’s not trained. She’s nobody. The Commandant’s slaves do not usually survive more than a couple of weeks; why should Laia be any different? And why is Keenan “shocked” by Laia’s bruises and cuts when he sees her in the marketplace? What did he expect to happen to her? Why can Cook and Kitchen Girl tell that Laia is with the Rebellion, but the Commandant (who seems to know everything) doesn’t have a clue? Is she pretending not to know? And if so, why would she do that?
And Helene. For such a tough girl, she sure needs a lot of rescuing. She nearly dies in the first Trial, carried to safety by a much-distraught Elias. Why would they choose her for the Trials anyway? Girls can’t be the Emperor. The Trials are happening because the current Emperor did not have any male heirs.
Insta-love. Ugh. Just make it stop.
I realize that many people have really loved this book, and I don’t want to take anything away from that. But for me, I didn’t connect with the characters, the world, or the extreme violence.
THEMES: good versus evil, power/corruption, slavery
THE BOTTOM LINE: Many love this book, but it wasn’t for me.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have it in print and on OverDrive.
- I did not finish this one, so I’m not going to rate it.
- Language: mild; nothing that I remember
- Sexuality: mild; up to p. 200 or so, there wasn’t even any kissing
- Violence: extreme; rape, threatened rape, torture, maiming, and murder are HUGE parts of the plot
- Drugs/Alcohol: none