“We haven’t woken anything from the darkness that wasn’t already awake.”
This will probably not be one of my most composed reviews as my emotions as just so all over the place after this book, IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY. How in the world did I not come across this series until now, what book abyss have I fallen in that this gem of a writing masterpiece has been hidden from me!?
The best kinds of books are the ones that, when you read them, you feel like you’re whisked off to another place, the world around you disappears and for awhile you lose yourself in the stories of these other people. You become part of their adventures, their struggles and triumphs. Yet all the while these people feel like people you know, people you’ve met, or even people you’ve been or might want to be. This book has all of those glorious elements in it! Reading Ember felt like disappearing into a place that’s recognizable and yet so completely foreign, horrible in its brutality and yet strangely beautiful in its mythology.
And the characters, excuse me but they are so beyond amazing, words cannot express how much I adore all of them. Laia is the most relatable, her growth from being so afraid and defenseless to finding her own kind of courage is remarkable. It’s great when a character doesn’t just instantly toughen up because they’re thrown into something difficult. Laia is strong, but her strength overall is a growing process and that made me admire her as a character. And don’t get me talking about Elias because my heart just might explode from how much I love that poor soul. Seriously his development was so stellar and intricate, the way everything was woven together with the Augur Cain and seeing the many layers of himself that needed to revealed for him to be “free”, it was just too much for my heart. Now Helene, that girl is still so much of a mystery to me, but in a great way. I want to know more about her and she’s just so awesome with being underestimated by everyone and I felt so hurt for her after everything with Elias, but she just had so much complexity that I can’t wait to find out more!!
Even the side characters in this book were wonderful, like all of Elias and Helene’s Blackcliff friends, I almost cried with what happened to them in the end and Izzi is just the cutest little cupcake after everything that the Commandant has done to her. Who, speaking of, is so the creepiest and worst woman ever. There’s no way I could choose a worst villain of this story, because between Marcus being a super sicko and Keris as the Commandant with her sadistic ways, they were both equally horrid, but in a “I like to dislike you” way.
As romance goes, I’m not super thrilled with the love triangle because, let’s be honest here, I’m all for Laia and Elias and so I was saying no to Keenan early on. Plus his character just wasn’t developed as much as Elias so I didn’t feel as interested in the romance between Laia and him as I did with her and Elias. Now I will admit I still wouldn’t be opposed to a triangle between Elias, Laia and Helene. Elias may have been very clueless there for awhile, but I think his affection for Helene was really genuine and I always adore a good friends turned romantic partners pairing. Of course with everything that happened that’s probably not likely. Especially since Elias and Laia have some serious book chemistry. The kind where even when they’re just on the same page together, or even just mention the other’s name, I’m so glued to the page my eyes hurt. The author has managed to capture that all important spark and I just can’t wait for it to ignite into something extraordinary.
I’ve already rambled on too much, but I have to mention how well the world was built too. Not just how much I felt immersed in it, like I said above, but just the style of it. Like being plopped down in Ancient Rome, but with a touch of Arabian culture. The mythology of the jinn, efrits, ghuls and other creatures is so intriguing that I’m pulled in by their story as much as the main characters. The author has a talent for weaving stories within stories, within stories and I liked that while the narrative had one overarching goal, Laia saving her brother, there were so many more complex narratives going on underneath. It gave the book more drive, heart and depth. I’m always completely drawn in by the complexity it must take to come up with not just the original plot, but the stories of so many other moving pieces within the original narrative.
So after all of that, if you’ve read all the way to the bottom of this review (which if you have, thank you and you’re awesome) I think you can surmise by now that I LOVED this book. The characters, the world, the everything. The writing was so well done that every line and moment fit within the frame of what was happening. Stepping back I normally wouldn’t appreciate something that could be considered slightly violent, but within the world that Tahir has set up, it all works together to create a place that’s haunting and poetically moving at the same time. I can’t wait to start reading the next books in the series, if it’s anything like this one, I’m sure it’s going to be amazing!
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.