…Yes. Just kidding, this will be more objective than that. In honor of the super exciting announcement that Sabaa Tahir is not only releasing her first contemporary book next year but also that the Ember series is being adapted into a TV series, I thought it was high time these books got my special series treatment. I’ve done this for both the Red Queen and Stalking Jack The Ripper series so feel free to check those out if they interest you! Let’s do this!
you might be wondering: what exactly is this famous series about?
Well, I’m here to inform you that it’s very much about embers who become torches held by reapers in the sky. Please applaud my best efforts at explaining this complex notion.
Fine. The first book follows a Scholar girl named Laia, whose parents are killed and brother is taken by warriors called Martials. Martials essentially rule the land have been oppressing the Scholars for centuries. In order to get her brother back, Laia teams up with the Scholar Resistance and poses as a servant girl to the most terrifying Martial of all: the Commandant of Blackcliff Academy. On the other hand, we also follow Elias, who hates the Martials and everything they stand for. He’s also the Commandant’s son so uh that’s a bit of a bummer for him. His plans to desert run astray when he’s sucked into a competition against his best friend, Helene Aquilla, and two others to see who will be elected as the new Emperor.
so…what makes this series unique???
- The series is very reminiscent of the ancient Roman culture/period, with the weaponry and the class system being a good example. The fantasy elements are very much inspired by the Middle-East, featuring creatures such as jinn and ifrits. I think that this is OwnVoices for Middle-Eastern representation. This combination actually makes for a brutal yet beautifully crafted world and story that feels both familiar and new. However, the books do sometimes succumb to common tropes in the YA genre.
- The romances are slowburn, and never override the plot, but they’re still present. Which I love but others might not.
- One of the things that I personally adore about Sabaa Tahir’s writing is that she never pulls back punches. It’s a bit like Game of Thrones in how brutal it can get sometimes. With that being said, it’s never needlessly gory, and the topics of grief, race, misogyny, and loss are handled well. That being said, I wouldn’t neccessarily recommend if you like light-hearted stories.
well…what about each book individually???
An Ember In The Ashes doesn’t feel like a fantasy for most of the book, strangely enough. It almost feels like an alternate, violent Rome, where Scholars are beaten and oppressed and women raped. The setting of a school with a competition allows for plenty of character building to be done, which works well when looking at the character arcs of each in the series. As much as I love this book, however, some might not enjoy how claustrophobic it feels. There’s a whole fantasy world out there that just isn’t explored in the first novel.
A Torch Against The Night very much sets the tone for the rest of the series. We see much more of the world Sabaa’s created. We see creatures from myths. The stakes are high, and the plot twists are thick. This is where the outline of the story becomes markedly clearer. With that being said, a lot of people don’t like this one as much. It’s slower at times, and frustrating with how it deals with certain aspects of character arcs.
A Reaper At The Gates is slower as well. It also introduces a new character perspective that some struggle with. Another character’s arc takes a turn that is…extraordinarily painful to read from at times.
A Sky Beyond The Storm is the conclusion of the series, and thus will be one of the most controversial reads. This is a book that’s forced to tie up a lot of loose ends, which it does well. However, in the process, a lot of the book feels either rushed or with too much focus on the characters and their internal motivations. I do believe it’s one of the more satisfying conclusions I’ve read though.
In conclusion, this is a brutal YA fantasy series that’s unique, but does fall prey to several tropes of the genre. If you haven’t read this one yet, and are looking for a diverse fantasy epic, I’d definitely recommend at least considering this one! On the other hand, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this for those who aren’t used to darker books due to its brutal nature. Have you read this?