If you follow pretty much anything regarding YA books, you have heard about the release of An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. It's definitely one of the biggest book releases this year and has already been opted for a movie deal. Whenever a book has that much hype around it before it even releases, I get super skeptical. I don't want to get my hopes up and then be disappointed. I can honestly say that all the hype surrounding Ember is absolutely true.
The world building in Ember is amazing and is one of the things that makes this book so special. You have so many different types of people that live in this alternate world, though only three are really talked about. The first ~100 pages or so is a bit slow because Tahir is setting the scene and really makes sure you have a clear vision of the world and the people. I was absolutely lost in the fantasy and couldn't get enough. I love the alternating POVs, I loved the action, I love the betrayals, I love the secrets... I just love all of it. I especially love that I didn't know where the story was going to go at any point. There was so many different paths it could have taken, so I was constantly guessing and then second guessing myself.
I went back and forth pretty much this entire book on which POV I liked more. Elias gave a lot of action and adventure, whereas Laia gave a more emotional approach to the story. The way the story is told really paints a full picture of the world that Tahir built. It was easy to develop an emotional connection to each character during their POV, and it was also easy to see the hate and intolerance that each character has for the other. Laia grew up in fear of The Masks, and the more that Elias comes around her the more uneasy she feels. She doesn't know what Elias could possible want from her other than to rape or hurt her. Elias has never viewed a slave as he has Laia, which is probably because she is the first slave that he has really paid attention to. Now that he noticed her and has become invested in her, he can't just turn his head when things start happening.
One thing I really loved about this book is that their is no clear romance. From the beginning, you kind of assume that at some point Elias and Laia are going to get together seeing as they are the two main characters. However, Laia and Elias each have someone else that they have feelings for, so it complicates their situations even more. The story doesn't focus on the romances, though it does play big parts in the decision making process of each person. I know some people felt like Ember lacked romance, but I think the little bit that was featured was just perfect. I feel like in the sequel (which has just been announced as moving forward!!!!!) there will be more romance. I personally just feel like the book didn't lack anything because it didn't have a lot of romantic moments. With all the crossover between YA and NA these days, it was really refreshing to read a book that wasn't weighted down by this big love story and steamy scenes (and y'all know I love a good scandy scene.).
Ember reminded me a lot of Red Rising. When Laia is telling about her life growing up a Scholar and then her life as a slave, it made me think of Darrow when he was a Red. When Elias was describing his time at BlackCliff as well as the trials he faces, it reminded me of when Darrow became a Gold. Also, the differences in the names in Ember is similar to the differences in names between Reds and Golds in Red Rising (i.e- Laia is just Laia, whereas Elias is Elias Veturius of Gens Veturia). The story itself is nothing like Red Rising, and I would actually compare it a lot to Legend by Marie Lu. If you have read Legend, you'll remember that Thomas and his unwavering servitude to his government and his duties. This was reminded me so much of Helene's character in Ember and is probably what reminds me of Legend the most. Forbidden love, government resistance, revenge for a fallen family member, yes yes yes! All of the things I love!
For me, this book lived up to all of its hype and more. I was completely blown away and found myself trying to read slowly (as oppose to just blowing through it) because I wanted to savor all of my time in this amazing world and with the characters. If you are a fan of true YA writing (not YA that leans towards NA regarding romance), then you will enjoy this book. It is definitely one of the best ones that I have read this year.