Title: An Amber in the Ashes
Author(s): Sabaa Tahir
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
The Young Adult book world if full of dystopian tales, which suits me just fine as I usually enjoy them immensely. It does take quite a bit to stand out from the crowd, though, and I will say that Tahir’s Ember shot leaps and bounds in front of many of the YA dystopian books I’ve read recently.
Tahir jumps right into the action of her story immediately drawing her readers captive, allowing for the details to unfold while alternating between Laia and Elias’s perspectives. It isn’t often that a book can deal with a subjugated character and weave a story that allows for the oppressor’s humanity to unfold naturally. Reading the narrative from both perspectives give a depth to the story’s development that helps the reader navigate the nuances of the world and Empire Tahir has created. Without each character’s story, the connection that evolves between these two main characters would be too far of a stretch for most readers to believe. What both Laia and Elias embody is a shared destiny to alter the course of history for the corrupt Empire. They are an unlikely pair, coming from both sides of the corrupt society. “You are an ember in the ashes…You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.” What happens when an oppressor becomes an ally? Is that even possible? Who can be trusted? What is worth sacrificing for the unknown possibility of a better society?
Both characters struggle with these questions in their own spheres of society in surprisingly believable ways.
Possibly one of my favorite aspects of Tahir’s storytelling is the way she was able to draw from our own ancient cultures, causing us to harken back to Roman legions and Eastern religions in a seamless and congruent story. Appearances of jinn, some tribesmen, a militaristic school of mercenaries, and oppressed scholars turned rebels would seem too big a story to tell, but Tahir manages to include all these threads without any one thread seeming tangential. In Tahir’s world, the paranormal seems normal and I loved it. Each of these threads caused me to look at our own world and examine the truths and complexities of subjugation, both seen and unseen, in our own empires.
I found An Ember in the Ashes a riveting and original story that kept me second-guessing and reevaluating characters throughout the entire book. It is a fantastic debut novel from an author who has won me over with her intelligent, intriguing, and enchanting writing style. I have already pre-ordered the sequel, A Torch Against the Night, and that is a rare form of praise from someone who nearly always waits patiently for books to come to her library. If you loved The Hunger Games, Divergent, or the Red Rising Trilogy I’d highly recommend checking this book out.
Review by Jenni Claar: Find her on instagram @oridinaryepiphany