January book review: Dive into the fantastical world of An Ember in the Ashes

Disclaimer: The following review may contain some spoilers revolving around the plot and background. The review is simply my own opinion, you may disagree.

This year, I will be reviewing books based around their genres. This month’s genre is Fantasy

In these reviews, I will rate the books on a starring system using an appropriate symbol: bookmarks.

5/5 Bookmarks: This book will land in my all-time favorite book list and you should stop what you are doing and read it, no matter what.

4/5 Bookmarks: You should try to read it at some point in your free time.

3/5 Bookmarks: If you are bored or going on a long trip, it might be fun to read.

2/5 Bookmarks: I would not really bother unless you enjoy the author.

1/5 Bookmarks: The book would make a better coaster for your Coke than a book.

0/5 Bookmarks: Congrats! You now have kindling! (just kidding, please do not burn books; just do not waste your money or your time with this one)!

Ember
This January, I read an Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. This fantasy novel takes place in the cutthroat Martial Empire and focuses on the struggle of Scholar slave Laia.

An Ember in the Ashes can be described in one word: potential. This book has the potential to be a really great read, but unfortunately, it wasted its potential by focusing the story on a really boring protagonist. Okay, let me back up, an Ember in the Ashes focuses on Laia, a Scholar girl under the Martian Empire. Because Laia is a Scholar girl she is a second-class citizen under the Marital Empire’s thumb. She lives in a brutal society where neighbors disappear overnight, and scholars are constantly at risk of becoming slaves. When her brother is captured and imprisoned under accusations of treason, Laia becomes a spy for the Scholar rebellion in return for their help in rescuing her brother. “Well gee,” you’re probably saying, “this sounds really interesting! Does the book focus on the injustice of this society and lead to an awesome revolution spurred by the fiery ambition of a teenage girl?” And the answer is, kind of? See here’s the thing; the story doesn’t really focus on the whole revolution bit. Instead, we follow Laia as she infiltrates the Blackcliff Academy and does absolutely nothing. She barely does any spy work and instead gets beaten up and tortured by several different characters. Now, this wouldn’t be a problem if not for two issues.

The first major issue is that Laia is bland, this usually means that the reader is supposed to project on to her. Now normally I hate these types of characters because I feel that it is deliberately pandering and lazy, but because of the type of story Tahir is trying to tell, this is especially an issue. See if I’m projecting onto Laia and Laia is getting tortured, that means I feel like I’m getting tortured, which isn’t pleasant. Now it can be argued that books aren’t necessarily supposed to be pleasant, but when your main character, the audience surrogate, is constantly harassed, beaten, and is generally just a damsel in distress makes this unenjoyable to read. The second is that the supporting characters are far more interesting. I probably would have loved this book if the main character was her brother Darin, he actually seems like an interesting character! This is not to say that the book is boring. The world is actually incredibly unique with a mix of the Roman empire and West African culture. This book has the potential to tell a great story, but the lore needs to be ironed out and the boring characters need to be sidelined.

This is a series so I may attempt to read the next book just to see if things get better. If you’re looking for an interesting take on a dystopian novel you should read this book, rated 3.5/5 bookmarks.

Another book I’d like to recommend is Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. This book is a hilarious take on the end of times, focusing on the demon and angel trying to stop it, the modern take on the four horsemen, and an 11-year-old antichrist, who really just wants to save the rainforest. This is an extremely witty and fun take on the End of the World and is being turned into a mini-series on Amazon Prime set to release sometime this year.

Both an Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir and Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman are currently available in the McNicholas High School library.

Do you have a book that you would like me to review? Please suggest it in the comments or send me an email via 102867@mcnhs.org.

Next month’s genre: Romance


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