Thanks to Hayley Lawson, our Guest Host!
Robert’s quick summary:
Laia, 17, discovers her brother, Darin is working for The Resistance, when a raid of Martials – the Scholar’s enemy and oppressor – sees her grandmother and grandfather brutally slaughtered in front of her and her brother. Scared for her life, she runs at her brother’s insistence, only to be caught by a dreaded Mask, one of Blackcliff’s elite trained warriors.
But the Mask lets her go, leaving his chilling words etched in her mind: “Run, little girl.”
With Darin her only family, Laia resolves to find him and free him.
But how can she do that when everything and everyone is against her?
An Ember in the Ashes is by Sabaa Tahir
So what did we think? (From a reader’s perspective)
1. (Robert) This is a gory, violent, fast-paced thriller, set in a medieval style world. There’s some swearing (but no f-bombs), plenty of sexual references and a lot of death and scary scenes. Definitely for the older YA reader, but both male and female readers will find plenty to identify with. The intrigue is similar to Red Rising – a “training school” and ultimately a “win-or-die game” must separate the best of the best of the despised elite ruling Martials, while the oppressed Scholars mount futile “resistance attacks.”
2. (Hayley) The next game of thrones, I’m a fan of the show and felt that this was like a younger cleaner version of it. At the start the story was bit too slowly for me, but once it started going I did get interested in it.
3. (Robert) Mostly what I loved was the gripping nature of each and every scene – nothing left to waste here – and I read the entire book in less than a day while sick in bed. It’s quite tense and grueling, and feeling sick and with a sore throat definitely brought out the darker parts.
What did we think from a writer’s perspective?
1. (Robert) This is one story where the author is not afraid to go deep into the plotting practice epitomized by the saying: “put your protagonist in a tree, and throw rocks at them (then either get them down or set fire to the tree, according to who you read! This quote has been popularly attributed to Nabokov, but there is no proof as to who originated the phrase.)
2. (Hayley) Laia too quickly decided to help the resistance. Her transformations from a weak girl to a fighter happened to quickly. There was a section towards the end of the book where Laia went back to her slaver quarters and slept there. Even though she was being hunted, didn’t make sense. That would have been the last place to go.
3. (Robert) A great example of scene-by-scene escalation, too. Nothing ever quite works out, and almost every step is thwarted, but it never feels contrived. Look for the scene structure here and you’ll see it for what it is: goal, conflict, disaster, reaction, analysis, dilemma, new goal (raised stakes) being repeated time and time again until as a reader you are thoroughly invested.
The two different voices and alternating POV (first person, present tense of course!) are really well done, as Laia and Elias were two quite different characters, and I was never confused as to who I was reading. (Unlike some critical reviewers)
Occasionally I was “aware” of the author contriving backstory discussions and seeding in some interior monologues where the character conveniently thought about the past or even explained it in his or her head, but it was never horribly intrusive (and mainly showed itself in the early chapters). No worse than Harry Potter! Also, there’s one very helpful “overhear some of the plot” scene which I never like, but at least this time it was Laia doing her best to show us that she had to face her fears or risk losing her brother forever. There are a couple of other convenient moments – the sudden healing power that came from nowhere, and the Augurs orchestrating the entire plot perhaps – but I still didn’t find this off-putting, and for a debut? … Impressive.
Hayley and Robert’s Famous Takeaways:
1. Fans of Hunger Games, Red Rising should devour this – and what a Gladiator-style movie it would make!
2. Tahir shows how masterfully the building of tension, escalating stakes and character arcs can all be wound together.
3. Really well resolved ending (suck on that, you ungrateful one-star-reviewers!), yet clearly wide open for the continuing story, which I shall be reading!
Prompt of the Week:
You find out that a member of your family is working for a secret organization, and could bring terror down upon the rest of you. Do you support them or not, and why?