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Sunday, August 14, 2016

An Ember in the Ashes

If I had never read another YA novel about a dystopian society where a plucky girl works against the totalitarian authority while being torn between two boys before, I'd tell you that An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir, is pretty good. It's got some good suspense, creates an interesting world, and invokes a sense of mystery (not all of them solved--this is the first in a series). But, despite the rave reviews by others, I must warn that this book seems very familiar. Elements of The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, and The Giver are all here.

The book is set in an alternative place, not Earth, with medieval technology. The people are in charge are the Empire, or Martials. They have enslaved the people called the Scholars. There is a resistance, of course. The Martials have a strict code of evil, which is mostly carried out by enforcers called Masks, who actually wear masks that have embedded into there skin.

The novel alternates chapters between two characters, Laia and Elias (I'm always puzzled when an author gives her main characters such similar names). Laia is the daughter of deceased resistace leaders (shades also of Harry Potter). As the book begins, a Mask kills her grandparents and captures her brother. She will do anything to save him, so goes to the resistance. She is sent under cover as a slave-girl to the commandant of Blackcliff, where the Masks are trained, to spy for them in exchange for them breaking her brother free.

Elias is a Mask in training. He is the son of the commandant (who is a woman, and is pure evil--she usually deforms her slaves in some way just to let them know who's in charge) and is ready to escape, as he doesn't fit in. But the augurs, who are kind or oracles that can read minds and predict the future, decide that there is to be a new emperor, and Elias is chosen as one of four "aspirants" who will go through four trials to determine who it will be.

There's a lot of plot in this book, and most of it is well done. Laia is, of course, mistrustful of all Masks, but when Elias begins to be kind to her she is drawn to him. She is also drawn to Keenan, her contact in the resistance. For his part, Elias is best friends with Helene, who is also an aspirant. Are they in love with each other? Will Helene really kill Elias if she has to?

I would recommend this book to any reader, young or old, who has never read anything like this before.  But for those who read these things all the time, An Ember in the Ashes may seem very derivative. I'm also not a big fan of books that don't completely exist on their own, and leave too much to be answered in a sequel that I probably won't read.

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