Tag Archives: sabaa tahir

The Ember Quartet Keeps Burning

A Reaper at the Gates

A Reaper at the Gates, the third book in Sabaa Tahir’s fantasy adventure quartet, was released last month. An Ember in the Ashes was the best book that I read in 2017, and A Torch Against the Night did not disappoint. I decided to reread the first two books before the third book’s release since I assumed that I had forgotten some details about the plot. (And indeed I had!) Besides, this is a young adult series, and rereading would have definitely been my move as a teen if I loved a series this much. Now I am fully prepared to evaluate the story arc.

My first post about An Ember in the Ashes mentioned some common pitfalls for authors continuing a series after a promising debut. It seems to me that Tahir took great care with her world-building at the start of the series. Across all three books, she displays a broad understanding of the Empire and its peoples, as well as specific knowledge about her characters’ histories and psychology. The series takes place in the Empire, a country ruled by the military-minded Martial class but also home to the oppressed Scholars. By drawing her characters from different groups and alternating perspectives, Tahir fills her fictional world with nuanced individuals, instead of a strict good-versus-evil dichotomy.

There’s an expectation that a fantasy series will broaden its scope and raise the stakes with each installment. In my opinion, this is where authors can sometimes lose sight of what made their story work in the first place. While An Ember in the Ashes switched between Elias and Laia’s perspectives, Tahir chose to add Helene’s perspective to the second book. Helene is Elias’s best friend from their childhood of elite military training, but the events of the first book place them at odds. On the practical side, her chapters keep the reader informed of what the Martials are up to, but she also represents another perspective on one of the series’ central themes: duty versus personal desire. By the third book, I was probably looking forward to her chapters more than any others.

A Reaper at the Gates is somewhat less focused on the characters’ personal struggles as they have become embroiled in larger conflicts. Or rather, the characters find it increasingly difficult to honor their personal desires while also serving the greater good. Although seemingly necessary for dramatic effect, this shift is probably where other series have lost me. Let’s be honest–I’m here for the feelings! Thankfully, Tahir intersperses the action with enough emotional upheaval to satisfy my inner adolescent. I wish that I could also escape the fantasy mainstays of prophecies and the undead, but as an infrequent visitor to this genre, perhaps I don’t have the right to complain.

Laia, Elias, and Helene were placed in extreme new circumstances at the end of A Torch Against the Night, and the same can be said for A Reaper at the Gates. Some of the changes are exciting and some are heartbreaking. The story strands have woven together in surprising ways, and I’m fascinated to see how they resolve. Now I can only hope it will be just a year’s wait for the final book.

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Best of 2017: Book Edition, Part 2

It was a tough year for a lot of people, but I personally found comfort in the wit and wisdom of smart women like these five authors. If you want honest reflections of imperfect people, these books are a good place to start. Here are my favorite books for 2017!

5. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible

From conversations with friends, I know that readers had split opinions about this modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. The greatest challenge for any modernization is finding equivalents for the social and romantic obstacles that the characters face. I appreciate that Eligible makes bold choices to create situations that feel equally dramatic to the ones in the original story, given the less restrictive society of today. Although the characters aren’t particularly sympathetic, it’s a deliciously fitting send-up to see Mr. Bingley as a reality show star and Jane as a placid yoga teacher. All the points for creativity!

4. The Lake House by Kate Morton

The Lake House

My former coworker Angel placed this book on my desk with assurances that I would love it. Nearly a year later, I’ve read three books by Kate Morton, but The Lake House remains my favorite. I like to call Morton’s books “Anglophile porn” because they have everything you would want of a British story: world wars, ancestral homes, and family secrets. The Lake House is a prime example. While on leave from the London police, Sadie finds an abandoned country house and is determined to discover its history. This leads her to Alice Edevane, a mystery writer who grew up in the house. And the page-turning continues from there.

3. How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

How to Build A Girl

Caitlin Moran is a formidable feminist voice in the UK. Before also reading her memoir this year, I picked up her semi-autobiographical novel. Despite a strongly worded disclaimer from Moran that How to Build a Girl is completely fictional, she was also raised in a large family in Wolverhampton and became a music journalist while still in her teens. Like all her writing, Moran’s prose is frank and funny. The characters reach high levels of absurdity in their actions, but as the narrator strives to reinvent herself, her private admissions feel absolutely real. It’s a messy, affectionate coming-of-age tale.

2. Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen

Too Fat Too Slutty Too Loud

I fell in love with Anne Helen Petersen as a Classic Hollywood analyst, but these musings on modern celebrity culture blew me away. Each chapter is named after a female celebrity and one of her supposedly excessive qualities. Then Petersen examines how that woman’s celebrity image breaks from socially acceptable expressions of femininity. (Too strong, too fat, too old, etc.) As always, her writing illuminates how our culture’s often contradictory values are reflected in our celebrities. I was particularly impressed by how she made me reconsider women whose personas have never resonated with me in the past. This book should be a battle cry for unruly women everywhere.

1. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes

Let’s consider this the year that young adult came back into my life with a vengeance. At the top of the heap is An Ember in the Ashes, the first in a planned four-part series by Sabaa Tahir. She creates a vivid, dangerous world with slavery, oppression, and a ruling military class. At the beginning of the book, Laia must become a slave at the brutal military academy in order to help the Resistance and save her imprisoned brother. Tahir excels at showing a diversity of perspectives and setting high stakes for all of her characters. I can’t wait for the third book to come out in April! (You can read my full review here.)

Thanks for reading with me!

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A New Wave of YA is Coming

After several years of being less engaged with the world of young adult books, I find myself looking forward to new releases from many of my favorite authors. 2017 has already been a brighter year for YA with a new book from Sarah Dessen and the discovery of Sabaa Tahir’s series-in-progress. Join me in nerding out over four upcoming books and admiring beautiful cover art.

There’s Someone Inside Your House on September 26!

There's Someone Inside Your House

Stephanie Perkins is a delight in her Anna and the French Kiss trilogy. Having briefly met her at NerdCon: Stories, I can also vouch for the fact that she’s a delight in person. She’s been teasing this book for a while now: like a teen slasher flick but with plenty of kissing and googly eyes (she promises!). It took some time for me to warm up to the idea, but now I’m pumped. I love that she’s willing to work outside of her established patterns. Given the humanity that she can bring to a teenage romance in Paris, I predict that There’s Someone Inside Your House will have more emotional resonance than the average horror story.

Turtles All the Way Down on October 10!

Turtles All the Way Down

By the time this book comes out, it will have been almost six years since the release of The Fault in Our Stars. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if John Green would ever publish again, at least in the YA genre. He’s certainly been keeping busy with creating educational online video. In this case, I’m glad to be wrong. Turtles All the Way Down deals with mental illness, which according to John himself, is inspired by his own experiences with OCD. Although I keep up with John through his online content, I look forward to learning what his brain has been working on these past six years. It’s sure to be thought-provoking.

Truly Devious on January 16!

Truly Devious

As blog readers probably know, my deepest wish is for Maureen Johnson to publish the fourth Shades of London book. Well, it’s vying with a few other literary wishes, but it’s right up there. Luckily, Truly Devious sounds like it has the potential to fill the void. It continues Maureen’s trend of boarding school settings, this time at an American school with ambitious students and a mysterious founder. If I can’t have ghost detectives in London, I’ll take a regular teen detective in Vermont. Not to mention, the cover art is on point!

A Reaper at the Gates on April 10!

A Reaper at the Gates

This is the third book in Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series. Since I just caught up with the series this spring, a year isn’t too long to wait for the next installment. However, there was much confusion when I saw the cover. A quick search revealed that the entire series is be re-released with new cover art. I’m not a huge fan of the high fantasy mood of the new designs, not being a frequent fantasy reader myself, but this interview with Sabaa explains her motivation for showing the faces of her diverse characters. The second book left the three main characters in unexpected places, so I’m excited to see where she takes them.

It’s worth noting that only one of these books is a sequel. There are fresh ideas brewing in the YA world, and I’m all about it.

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A Young Adult Fantasy Gem

An Ember in the Ashes

It’s been a while since I was truly excited about a young adult book, in part because I haven’t read very many in the past year or two. There was a stretch of time when every new book was reminding me of The Hunger Games or The Fault in Our Stars. However, when a book is independently recommended to me by two well-read lady friends, I take notice. That book is An Ember in the Ashes.

Young adult, like every literary genre, is lacking in diversity. This applies to both authors and character representation. So it’s wonderful to see a Pakistani-American author receiving well-deserved recognition for this book. In An Ember in the Ashes, you will find a society based on the Roman Empire in a desert climate with a variety of characters who aren’t white (!). Tahir builds an immersive world with a strict class system, slavery, and soldiers who are trained from childhood. The stakes are high for characters in every social sphere.

The narration is split between Laia and Elias. Laia was born into the oppressed Scholar class. When her brother is arrested for suspected collaboration with the Resistance, she is forced to become a slave in her attempt to save him. Laia isn’t the typical heroine found in fantasy adventure stories. She doesn’t start out as tough, capable, and fearless, but circumstances push her to challenge her fears. Most importantly, her understanding of herself and her family evolves as she faces these trials. Hers is a classic coming-of-age journey.

On the other hand, Elias has been trained since boyhood to join the ranks of the Empire’s most lethal assassins. Although Elias holds a privileged position, his ambiguous parentage and nontraditional upbringing give him an outsider’s perspective. He can’t speak out against the brutality of the Empire without risking death. Tahir is highly successful at bringing out the contradictions and messy emotions in this character as well. Elias objects to the role he’s expected to play, but he also loves the comrades with whom he grew up.

My friend Emmie and I were discussing how authors sometimes struggle to continue a series after a promising start. She suggested that those authors didn’t have a specific idea of where they were headed when they began the series. In addition, I think that the pressure to make each book more epic and action-packed sometimes causes the emotional threads of the story to get buried. Sabaa Tahir has planned four books for this series. I will be reading A Torch Against the Night soon and hope to love it nearly as much as An Ember in the Ashes. Even if she falls into some of the fantasy series traps, she’s a young writer with tons of potential for the future. I look forward to following her career!

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