An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Underwhelmed. Its blurb reeled me in, only for the actual thing to become a little too familiar, a litte too long in one respect, too short in others, and a little too something. In essence I was dealt with the very same issue I faced when reading Red Queen. That is I had read a variation of both before:
First the sister, then the brother who are each other's only family left. Enter the tragic dark hero type reluctant to become who he is meant to be. Then throw in a rebel, too. Also, lots of Proper Nouns in classifying something as some sort of special thing, or placing a player in some distinct Class within some rigidly defined hierarchical society with a mythology that layers on a past that obviously matters but is left murky... for the sake of what?
All that is not to say that Ember wasn't interesting. It WAS as I kept coming back to it days after. The most interesting and different thing here's the push-pull between the two characters other than the predictable rich boy-slave girl tandem that was obviously in the works. WHY? The latter was... again, predictable, while the former was anything but. Helene to Elias is forbidden fruit, but why exactly? Predictability should have stemmed from their pairing and yet, not. There was something about their sameness that repelled him even as that sameness had him drawing closer to her. Basically THEY made sense together... Except....
Perhaps me rooting for this pair was me being purposefully anti-obvious... because really need the love sparks come from being star crossed? As in need we root for the obvious pairing of rich boy/poor girl?! Because really why? There's no basis for a them, save 'THE look' they shared upon first meeting. OK... I ought to concede that not much of this is.really about romance... but what else is the take away when each of their interactions culminate with one or both of them thinking back to the other as dreamy or (insert any other positive descriptive), yes?
Add that the female protagonist in this, Laia, felt a little too easy a lead to follow. There's an obviousness to the things that happened, often TO her rather than BECAUSE or BY her. She is the victim of so many things, played by someone then positioned by some other's doing. It was only in the very last two or so chapters that things shifted... a shift that almost came too late as Pity for her became too rooted in me so that seeing her as someone MORE was fast becoming impossible. She wasn't much of a heroine, something not of her doing EXCEPT therein stems my issue with this 'heroine' nothing is her doing; most everything is done TO her. Otherwise, it's her musing over her attraction to two very different characters. Hmmm...
Fortunately, by telling Elias' then Laia's stories separately, we see exactly how very different their two worlds are and more interesting, how the two navigate those realities. But then by punctuating those separate tales by having the two collide, the difference is almost made clearer.... ALMOST because to me both stories felt incomplete. I would gladly have dealt with a longer book, were it more on Laia's interaction with the rebellion or were things a little bit more on the background of Elias and his Helene and the rest of the Masks actually. BUT really, I'd have loved this more were the dark magical part tackled more. Because really? That's all we get, a half-told story on the big bad scary Nightbringer? In the same way details on the Augurs as well as that Scholar-Mask past could have been more generously shared.
So this is me being contrary--- the book was slow and sometimes over long in dealing with someone perhaps maybe liking someone else who perhaps hopefully reciprocates (maybe not?) BUT the details of myth and context I would have happily dealt with. In that aspect there could have been more making this longer. I just wanted more of the second and less of the first.
Thank you, BT for this arc!
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