Ember in the Ashes Review: Searing Political Fantasy

 

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An Ember in the Ashes

By Sabaa Tahir

Published April 28th, 2015 by Razorbill, and imprint of Penguin Random House

446 Pages

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.

CHARACTERS

Laia

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

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

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.

RELATIONSHIPS

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.

BOOKENDS

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.

THEMES

The major themes I discovered were: overcoming fear, freedom, the soul, and the Spirit.

HISTORY/CULTURE

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).

WORLD BUILDING

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.

FAVE QUOTES

“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

RATING

5/5

CONCLUSION

Ember in the Ashes delighted, shocked, and moved me. I’m rushing into “Torch Against the Night”!

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Book Review: White Like Me (Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son) by Tim Wise

white like me

White Like Me

Tim Wise

Published 2005

Amazon

Synopsis

With a new preface and updated chapters, White Like Me is one-part memoir, one-part polemical essay collection. It is a personal examination of the way in which racial privilege shapes the daily lives of white Americans in every realm: employment, education, housing, criminal justice, and elsewhere.

Using stories from his own life, Tim Wise demonstrates the ways in which racism not only burdens people of color, but also benefits, in relative terms, those who are “white like him.” He discusses how racial privilege can harm whites in the long run and make progressive social change less likely. He explores the ways in which whites can challenge their unjust privileges, and explains in clear and convincing language why it is in the best interest of whites themselves to do so. Using anecdotes instead of stale statistics, Wise weaves a narrative that is at once readable and yet scholarly, analytical and yet accessible.

My Thoughts

What a gem White Like Me is! I have become very socially conscious on matters of Race in America since August last year, with the infamous Ferguson incident, so I was very interested in what Tim Wise had to say. I actually got the book from my Theory of Knowledge teacher, who was giving out an extra copy he had bought. (Shout out to Michael LoStracco!)

In case you didn’t already know, Tim Wise is a white American who is working to educate people on race relations and combat racism in America. The essence of what he was saying in his book, White Like Me: racism still exists in America, there is such a thing as white privilege, the micro-aggressions blacks face daily, were all things that I already knew prior to reading about them in his book. Yet, it was still refreshing to read a white person saying all that, especially when it comes to white privilege.

He is very honest and candid, which really impressed me when I was reading. Too many times have whites been to plagued by white guilt rather than facing the truth. Not Tim Wise. He wrote the hard truth, and it made me ecstatic. He wrote about privilege, belonging, resistance, and collaboration, and I could only marvel at the infinite wisdom, self-awareness, and empathy pouring out of a white man when writing about an issue that never affects him (at least not negatively, something he never has to worry about in his life: race.

I wish I could meet Mr. Wise in real life and thank him for writing such a candid book on our so-called “post-racial society”. I recommend this book to anyone and everyone. It’s important to be educated on such delicate social topics as race in today’s world. In fact, it is essential in combatting the ignorance that still befalls many in America today when it comes to race.

Favorite Quotes

“What whites have rarely had to think about—because being the dominant group, we are so used to having our will done, with a little effort at least—is that maybe the point is not victory, however much we all wish to see justice attained and injustice routed. Maybe our redemption comes from the struggle itself. Maybe it is in the effort, the striving for equality and freedom that we become human.”
Tim Wise, White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son

“So, in “Melting Pot” the children (about a third of whom were kids of color) sang the line, “America was the new world and Europe was the old,” in one stroke eradicating the narratives of indigenous persons for whom America was hardly new, and any nonwhite kids whose old worlds had been in Africa or Asia, not Europe.”
Tim Wise, White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son

“Hardly any aspect of my life, from where I had lived to my education to my employment history to my friendships, had been free from the taint of racial inequity, from racism, from whiteness. My racial identity had shaped me from the womb forward. I had not been in control of my own narrative. It wasn’t just race that was a social construct. So was I.”
Tim Wise, White Like Me

“And in “Elbow Room” the cast sings the glories of westward expansion in the United States, which involved the murder of native peoples and the violent conquest of half of Mexico. Among the lines in the song is one that intones, “There were plenty of fights / To win land right / But the West was meant to be / It was our Manifest Destiny?” Let it suffice to say that happily belting out a tune in which one merrily praises genocide is always easier for those whose ancestors weren’t on the receiving end of the deal.”
Tim Wise, White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son