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Book Review

Publisher's Note:

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTELLER A “deft, polished debut” (Publishers Weekly, starred review), Sabaa Tahir‘s AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is a thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and pulse-pounding read. Set in a rich, high-fantasy world with echoes of ancient Rome, it tells the story of a slave fighting for her family and a young soldier fighting for his freedom. Laia is a slave. Elias is a sold…

Overall Book Review:

Straight-up stunning and insanely addictive, author Sabaa Thahir’s debut young adult novel An Ember in the Ashes demands to be read! Tragic! Brutal! Merciless! Readers are introduced to the Martial Empire, a world not unlike ancient Rome or Greece – think Gladiator and 300. Here, readers embark upon the cruel realities of tyranny via duel narrators, Laia and Elias.

Laia is a slave.

 Elias is a soldier.

Neither is free.”

The alternating first person perspective between the two is easily navigated and discerned as each chapter heading displays a name. It may be hard for readers to choose a favorite viewpoint, as both Laia’s and Elias’s characters and counterparts are well developed, and their present events are distinct, but unvaryingly engaging.

As it is a sadistic world that readers are entering into, intense subject matter is included, namely rape. Oppression reigns and the hope of rebellion rises, creating a dramatic setting for a romance. Yes, there is a love shape of sorts, but like all teenage behavior it’s complicated! So, keep an open-mind because the complexity adds dimension and skims past the cliché.

Oh, and then there is the fantasy! Adding dark lore with mysterious creatures, akin to Greek mythology, creates an amusing edge to the story line.

Notwithstanding that An Ember in the Ashes has been compared to George R.R. Martin’s, A Game of Thrones and Suzanne Collins’, The Hunger Games, there is no piggybacking here. Author Sabaa Tahir created something fresh. Elements may be similar but there is nothing counterfeit or predictable about this novel, as the author is a true artist.

Even though the book looks like a huge undertaking (466 pages!), it is so slammed with fast-paced action/adventure, character progression, and plot advancement, that readers will be able to finish it quickly.

 “Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after. Such moments are tests of courage, of strength.”

Look for the sequel to An Ember in the Ashes which has yet to be released.

Content Analysis:

Profanity/Language:  83 mild obscenities; 19 derogatory names; 7 scatological words; 3 anatomical terms.

Violence/Gore:  Mention of family members being murdered; reports of neighbors being enslaved and executed; characters are hit, blood mentioned; character is hit and threatened with a sharp object; report of torture and death; character is cut; characters are killed with a blade, non-detailed; house is set on fire; report of violence used on children as punishment; report of unclothed defenseless children sent into the wild to survive; extended slightly intense scene (about 1 page) child is whipped to death; character is threatened with death and physical violence; character recalls a violent death, blood mentioned; character playfully punches another character; 2 reports of character breaking another character’s nose; extended scene (about 2 paragraphs) characters fight, punching, threatening with knives; character recalls receiving beatings as a child as part of military training; report of character killing others in attempt for freedom as a child; character swears a blood oath; brief report of suicide; secondhand report of character’s brutality; report of whipping children; character is threatened with a knife; male character threatens to rape 2 female characters, actively seeks to attack them; several (less than 20) mentions of rape, no explicit scenes; character is slapped; character admits to executing people; implication that character violently disfigured 2 other characters; character is whipped, blood mentioned; character kicks another to attain his/her attention; character is unwillingly kissed; character’s neck is roughly grabbed; report of characters physical mistreatment; general mention that character will inflict physical violence on characters’ loved ones as punishment; character cuts himself/herself; extended scene (about 1 paragraph) characters attack other characters, hitting, stabbing, injuries and blood mentioned; report of character’s family being murdered; character is violently burned; character recounts how another character disfigured them (2x); character shares how his/her loved ones were tortured and killed (non-descriptive); report of character’s torture and death; character is threatened with exposure and death; extended scene (about 3 pages) characters are attacked by soldiers and fantasy creatures, fight for survival; character recalls fighting off attackers, mention of deaths; report of attack and execution; character is threatened with a knife; casual mention of fight; characters fight for training (2x), injuries mentioned; character is violently grabbed and threatened with rape; extended scene (about 1 paragraph) physical attack, punching and kicking; characters fight, blood mentioned; injuries mentioned; report that characters has killed in the past; character is threatened with being whipped; character threatens other characters; extended intense/bloody scene (about 2 pages) characters fight to the death; character is shoved; character tells another charter how he/she killed their sibling; character is choked; characters are ordered to kill another character; character knocks another character unconscious; report of death and bloody injury; characters is threatened with execution; character admits to killing another character; character grabs and threatens another character at knife point; character tells how she tried to abort her pregnancy with herbs, desired to kill child; character admits to poisoning another character; character is kit and kicked repeatedly, character grabs another character at knife point; characters set of an explosive.

Sex/Nudity:  Character fears he/she will be raped; report of unclothed children; several (between 11-20) mentions or innuendos of male characters using a brothel and/or prostitutes; innuendos that male characters are sexually active; several mentions of rape, no explicit scenes; female character sees male character nude, mention that they have seen each other nude (non-sexual); character fantasizes about kissing another character; unknown paternity of character; male character threatens to rape 2 female characters, actively seeks to attack them; character is unwillingly kissed; report of past kiss; characters flirt and romantically caress one another; romantic build to an almost kiss; character is violently grabbed and threatened with rape; characters hold hands (2x); characters kiss and caress one another; descriptive kiss; implications of premarital sex; few (about 10) sexual slurs i.e.: whore, slut, etc.

Mature Subject Matter:

Socioeconomic conflict, racial conflict, tyranny, slavery, suicide, death, death of family member, abortion (attempted), murder, killing, rape, implication of premarital sex, abandonment, child abuse (physical, mental, emotional).

Alcohol / Drug Use:

Mention of alcohol; the use of an opiate is mentioned; male adult characters smoke tobacco pipes; mention of hangover; mention of character being drunk; mention of drunks.

Overall Book Rating

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About the Reviewer

I appreciate books of all genres, but my main squeeze is fiction. Depending on my mood it could be romance or suspense; lately I’ve been courting fantasy. When I don’t have my nose in a book, I am locating tasty paleo recipes, writing in-coherent poetry, and crafting with paper.