An Ember in the Ashes
By Sabaa Tahir
Published April 28th, 2015 by Razorbill, and imprint of Penguin Random House
Read February 19th – 25th, 2018
Ember in the Ashes has been at the top of my to-read list for YA series, so I was thrilled to impulsively snag it at my local bookstore. I wasn’t disappointed. It was a wild ride! The action erupted in the beginning and it. Did. No. Let. Up. The double love triangle (or love square, as people have taken to calling it), was really complex, and Ms Sabaa Tahir did a masterful job of keeping me wondering who matched up better with who. Also, I found the character development really satisfying, with real growth in mind and soul in characters.
Laia started off really passive, without having much conviction for any cause (outside of saving her brother). She accepted what fed to her (by the Resistance) and was too trusting, naïve, gullible. She fell into the Black-And-White thinking of Resistance = Good and Mask = Bad, without critically thinking of underlying motives people might have. The only thing propelling her forward was her need to save her brother, without putting much thought into the greater ideals her brother was fighting for. I was so gratified when, by the end of the book, she wizened up to the Resistance’s corruption – fighting against the “Establishment” – realized the “bigger picture” (such as freeing someone like Izzi, which righted an injustice bigger than herself or her brother, and became an active player, saving herself and thinking for herself.
Elias’s soul was always in the right place. He simply needed the courage and the fortitude to follow through on his convictions and stand up to the “Establishment” that was the Blackliff Industrial Complex. He knew he wanted to be better than what they wanted to manufacture him into at Blackliff Academy. He could never be a mindless robot in their Machine. Yet, he felt trapped in the “System”. What I loved about his story is that he only became “free” when he took a stand for what he knew was Right. In the end, he did not follow along with other people’s interests, as he had been doing throughout the novel. He became bold in what he believed in. His soul became unshackled, and his body became so, too. Most importantly, he was <u>honest</u> about how he truly felt. That took Bravery.
Helene was my favorite! She deserves to be a POV character, especially after all that she went through – so I am so glad that I get to read her POV in “Torch Against the Night”! What I loved about Helene was how steadfast she was in what she believed in, and how unwavering she was in her faith in what she was doing. Although she subscribed to Martial ideals, I found it really admirable how she focused on her goals, and how driven and tenacious she was in “going for gold”. She knew what she wanted, and she kept her eye on the prize. She did not let anyone underestimate her, and she possessed a keen sense of self. Her character is inspirational. The best part is, she is capable of strategic thinking for the Greater Good. She truly wants what is best for her people and the Empire, and she was selfless in her pursuit of that. I’m glad that she wasn’t brainwashed by Blackliff in the end, and even though she had been a stringent rule follower the whole book, she broke the rules to aid Elias in Doing the Right Thing.
The love square was intense! I shipped ALL of them! I genuinely had no clue who was “meant to be” and who wasn’t. Usually, it’s a little obvious who the “destined” couple are, but Sabaa Tahir pleasantly surprised me by making it more complicated – and messy! – than usual.
Laia and Keenan had that whole cute “can she melt his cold exterior” thing going on, which is always adorable. His hard edges started softening more and more around her, which was adorable.
Elias and Laia had that “insta-love”, “forbidden love”, and “opposing sides” thing happening, and it is always heartwarming to see characters that are trained to distance themselves from each other be ineffably drawn to each other, and discover their similar ideals through all the haze of exterior forces designed to keep them apart.
Helene and Elias made me so emotional! I usually am not all that into the whole “friends to lovers” thing, but they flipped that on its head! I adored their simultaneous realizations that they were Everything to each other, their need to be there for each other, and how they were such an equal match. Helene was “The Brain” and Elias was “The Heart”. The will-they-won’t-they feeling in the air had me swooning. Plus, I’m so into the whole fight-each other-but-really-love-each other thing. The fact that Helene is physically matched with Elias makes me so happy. I love when they have each other’s backs, but also adore the scene where they were sparring. That was beautiful.
My heart breaks for Helene! But Elias didn’t want to let her go in the end. A true Tragedy.
I liked how the framing of the book showed the ending as a fulfillment of what the characters had been lacking in the beginning. Elias finally achieved the freedom he had sought for, while Laia finally had the courage to save herself – and her brother – on her own terms.
The major themes I discovered were: overcoming fear, freedom, the soul, and the Spirit.
I found it cool how Sabaa Tahir modeled the culture of the Martials after the Ancient Romans, while modeling the culture of the Scholars after Ancient Arabs. She certainly did her research – it felt very “real”. I suspect that the Tribesmen were modeled after North African nomads, and I expect to learn more about them in “Torch Against the Night” (as well as the Mariners).
I’m so, so happy that the “intellectual” group, the Scholars, are the heroes and the protagonists in this series, and not the antagonists (like the Erudite in “Divergent”) nor the sidekicks (like the Ravenclaws in “Harry Potter”). Meanwhile, the “brawny” group, the Martials, are antagonistic, instead 0f heroic, for once, in contrast to the Dauntless and the Gryffindors. I appreciate that.
“There are two kinds of guilt, girl: the kind that drowns you until you’re useless, and the kind that fires your soul to purpose.” – Spiro Teluman
“Laia is the wild dance of a Tribal campfire, while Helene is the cold blue of an alchemist’s flame.” – Elias Veturius
“Even still, there is an animal freedom to how he moves, a controlled chaos that makes the air around him blaze. So different from Keenan, with his restrained solemnity and cool interest.” – Laia
“Fear can be good, Laia. It can keep you alive. But don’t let it control you. Don’t let it sow doubts within you. When the fear takes over, use the only thing more powerful, more indestructible, to fight it: your spirit. your heart.” – Spiro Teluman
“That’s who Helene is: Her faith is steadfast. Her loyalty. Her strength. They always underestimate me. I’d underestimated her more than anyone.” – Elias Veturius
Ember in the Ashes delighted, shocked, and moved me. I’m rushing into “Torch Against the Night”!