An Ember in the Ashes

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You may have heard of all the hype surrounding Sabaa Tahir’s second novel, “A Torch Against the Night.” With all its readership in under 3 months, Tahir met the standards she set with her debut novel.  For those of you not familiar with her book that started the hype in the first place, let me introduce you to Sabaa Tahir’s debut novel, “An Ember in the Ashes.”

Before I even began reading “An Ember in the Ashes,” I knew the Young Adult genre was not one of my favorites. With many YA novels using the same tropes and hackneyed ideas, I get tired of reading what seemed to be the same novel with slightly different character names and love interests. Suffice it to say, “An Ember in the Ashes” surprised me. Most importantly, it made me rethink my prejudices against the YA genre and want to find more books like it.

The book is mainly about a young girl, Laia, traveling to save her brother who was captured by the government for treason right before her family was killed. She goes against what she feels inside, which is mostly fear, to seek help from a rebel gang. Later in the novel, she meets Elias, another main character, who agrees to help her find her brother — but only near  the end of the book. (Insert frustrated groan here.)

The story switches off narration every chapter between the main characters, Laia and Elias. The switch in POV was an interesting choice to make for Tahir’s story, especially because Laia and Elias live very different lives in different social classes; Elias is a trained warrior and soldier that has been working since a young age to become a “mask” (elite fighter) and Laia is a poor Scholar girl, the lowest class of their society, but is very intelligent despite strong government restraints on her class. The switches between the chapter had me on the edge of my seat to find out how these two were going to eventually meet.

I found Elias and Laia to be relatable throughout the story even though they go through some pretty difficult and dangerous situations. They experience the same emotions that many of us do day-to-day: doubt in our abilities, worry over our family members, and anger at things going on around us. Tahir strikes a balance of relatability without seeming too heavy-handed — a quality every good novel should have. The author doesn’t seem like she’s trying really hard to appeal to her audience, but instead characterizes everyone’ complex lives and issues easily.

“An Ember in the Ashes” is a fantastical, dystopian novel. In a way, it shares some traits with other popular dystopian novels like “The Hunger Games” with the novels’ oppressive, powerful government system and social classes that are obviously more favored than others. Yet, the book also shows the multifaceted experiences that everyone goes through no matter what class. For example, Elias absolutely detests being in his position. Growing up training to be a soldier for the government is demeaning and sometimes torturous for him. In some novels, Elias would be seen only as an evil face to a large and dominant tribe. Tahir shows each person’s’ struggles in ways other dystopian books would glaze over.

With creative works there’s an ongoing joke that the more words the author made up for the piece, the worse it is. Even though there are some terms and phrases out of Tahir’s imagination that seem a little weird at first, I don’t think they were excessive. Tahir created a fantastical world that didn’t seem too far away from Earth.

My only dislike of the novel was Tahir’s writing. She was great at providing descriptions of the mood, setting, and characters’ emotions, but tended to be only the flowery side. Her use of metaphors and similes was a bit excessive, but, overall, didn’t detract from the plot and kept the story moving.

From the beginning of high school to, perhaps, our retirement, finding the time to read a book is difficult. By the time I get home and finish my homework and all the other things I need to do, the last thing I want is to waste my time reading a book that may or may not be tolerable after I finish the billionth page. In fact, I just want to sleep. “An Ember in the Ashes” was such a change of pace from the usual YA novels and so compelling that I would gladly spend time rereading it after a long, stressful day. Any student who enjoys reading books that suck you in and make you long for a sequel should definitely check out “An Ember in the Ashes.”