Tithe 2: Tall, Dark, and Brooding

I really expected that the magic of re-reading Tithe for the first time in years would be gone as soon as Kaye stumbled across her love interest, Roiben. I opened the book, armed with my incredible ability to nit-pick everything, and came away more or less satisfied with the second chapter.

No, let’s be honest, I got totally sucked in again.

It didn’t really start that way, though. Kaye flees the carousel and her own embarrassment, and starts on her way home. She’s more upset about how she made the broken carousel horse stand up on its own than about Kenny groping her, which makes sense, I guess, but in her situation, that’s not the thing I’d be hyper-focusing on. When she does think about Kenny, she’s more worried about what Janet will think, and what Kenny will tell people.

But the opening of the chapter is rendered less frustrating to me thanks to the lovely descriptions of Kaye’s walk home. I can vividly picture the wet woods at night, walking through the rain in the dark, cold and scared. I’m really envious of Holly Black’s descriptive abilities. She can make the scene come to life and paint a picture with her words, without making it drag on.

As Kaye makes her way home, she comes across a beautiful wounded man. She realizes that he is a faerie, but not like the faeries that were her childhood friends. The ones she had seen as a child were small and mischievous and playful, what most people would think of when they hear the word “faery”. Roiben, who Kaye finds here, is tall and handsome, more a warrior elf than a fun-loving sprite. The modern idea of fae is more like what we see in Disney movies: beautiful winged women granting wishes and turning you into a princess or a real boy. Tinkerbell may actually be closer to a traditional fae, with her jealousy nearly leading to the death of Wendy.

But for the most part, that Disney idea was what I grew up with. Charming creatures that would help you with your housework and friendly elves that made toys and shoes. A character like Roiben, in my book, was an entirely different species, like an elf from Lord of the RingsTithe was my first real introduction to the more traditional look at faeries, seeing their dark and dangerous side that went hand-in-hand with their beauty.

Roiben, by the way, was exactly what my fourteen-year-old self was looking for. Tall, handsome, dark and mysterious. He was in pain, he was broken, and I found that irresistible. Five years later, I found my own beautiful angsty man and knew that I could fix him, that I could be the light to his darkness.

If there are any teenage girls out there reading this now: I do not recommend attempting this. You cannot fix him, you will only get hurt in the process. Love your tall, dark, and brooding man in fiction, and leave him there.

Before I finish up this post, there is just one thing I need to point out.

She let out a breath she hadn’t known she was holding.

It’s not a bad line, and I can’t think of a better way to describe that sudden un-tightening of your chest after your see relief from a tense situation. But this line is used so much in fiction that it’s almost become another character. I know I’m guilty of using it way too much.

To be totally honest, this is probably something I would have never noticed, if not for one of my favorite tweets ever.

Someday I want to write a YA novel where the main character lets out a breath she knew damn well that she was holding.

P.S.: I’m on Twitter, like all the cool kids: https://twitter.com/nortonwriter14

Tithe 4: Enchantment? Enchantment!

The fourth chapter of Tithe remains mostly in the mundane world, but here we get a second look at Janet’s older brother, Corny. The reader was introduced to him at the end of the first chapter, where he’s downright threatening.

Then he would drive around, cruise past all the local rutting joints, imagining he had a semi-automatic rifle in the car and counting how many he could have gotten. ‘Pow,’ he’d say, softly, to rolled-up windows as a brown-haired boy with broad shoulders and a backwards baseball cap ran up to the giggling girls behind the window of a red truck. ‘Pow. Pow.’

This reads very differently for me in 2018 than it did in 2004, years after Columbine but before Virginia Tech. Because in my life then, shootings happened, but they happened somewhere else. They weren’t at my school, and they weren’t at my doorstep.

But now it seems like we can’t turn on the news without hearing another story about gun violence, to the point where it’s almost become white noise. I was more innocent the first time I opened Tithe, and Corny’s introduction just seemed creepy to me. But now he’d be the “lone wolf”, the potential threat. I don’t find that to be true to his character at all, which makes his opening sequence all the more off-putting. Though it makes me wonder: if not for Kaye’s arrival, would he have eventually gone through with it? That idea alone is far scarier to me than any of the magical dangers Kaye faces.

Kaye doesn’t know about Corny’s inner life, though, and stops by his trailer to see him while Janet’s at school. Fourteen-year-old me immediately warmed up to him after he and Kaye discuss comics, especially because Corny references shonen-ai, gay romance manga. This is also how Kaye discovers that Corny is gay.

This is a trope I’ve seen a couple times, where a character is outed as gay because they have gay porn. And, because I saw this in fiction, I used to think that this was the main way people came out. I’d seen it done in Tithe, obviously, and the film Saved!, so I was curious if this trope had been used elsewhere. However, a poorly worded Google search left me with some…interesting results, and I decided not to delve in further.

Corny does have a spectacularly nerdy coming out story, though.

It’s no big deal. One night at dinner I said, ‘Mom, you know the forbidden love that Spock has for Kirk? Well, me too.’ It was easier for her to understand that way.

I want to point out here that until 2009, this was the only thing I knew about Star Trek.

Once Janet arrives home, she and Kaye go to a diner to meet some friends. There Kaye is peppered with questions about her mom being in a band, and one character asks if her mother sleeps with her boyfriends. I’m curious is if this was meant to be foreshadowing for Valiant, the second novel in the Tithe universe, in which the protagonist runs away after discovering her mom is doing just that.

Janet’s boyfriend, Kenny, leaves to use the bathroom and Kaye follows. Here it’s revealed that Kaye has done something to him, and that he can’t stop thinking about her. Kaye doesn’t know what she’s done, if anything, and soon Kenny starts kissing her. It gets sexual very quickly, and Kaye can’t decide if she wants to push him away or keep going. I’d forgotten all about this scene, and most of the Kenny subplot. Which is to say it took me by surprise, and was really uncomfortable to read through.

I’m not sure if it gets better or worse when Roiben comes into the diner, shortly after Janet catches Kenny and Kaye together. Kaye’s conversation with Roiben is one of the most important scenes in the book, as it sets up a major plot point not just for the end of Tithe, but its sequel, Ironside.

Kaye learns that Roiben did kill her faerie friend Gristle, because he was ordered to do so by his mistress. She doesn’t find out exactly why his mistress would order him to do that, but does wind up with a far more important piece of information: Roiben’s full name. She doesn’t know why faeries don’t like to give out their true names, only that it would piss him off. That is, until she tells him, “Kiss my ass, Rath Roiben Rye.”

After which he proceeds to throw her on the floor of the diner and literally kiss her ass.

It’s a little funny, and a little scary, and Kaye’s friends don’t know what’s going on. All they saw was Kaye kissing Kenny, then her getting thrown around by a stranger. Janet and her friend Fatima take the rather startled Kaye outside. Janet is furious at Kaye, and has every right to be. It’s such a change from her trying to protect Kaye at the beginning of the book. Granted, she just saw her best friend making out with her boyfriend. Most people wouldn’t react calmly and rationally to that. If I had been in Janet’s shoes, at age 16, I know I’d be calling her a slut and probably a lot more.

The thing that bothers me is that I’d probably react the same, even now. I’d like to think that once the initial shock is over, I’d be able to handle it with some nuance.

But I also know I wouldn’t take, “sorry, I accidentally enchanted your boyfriend” as an excuse.

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

Some time ago, I did a review for An Ember in the Ashes, with a one-sentence review for each chapter. I had a lot of fun with it, so I thought I would bring a similar format (with a couple added sentences) back for Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krüeger. Spoilers ahead.

The novel follows Bailey Chen, a recent college graduate ready to flex her new business degree. She’s not exactly taking Chicago by storm, though, instead working as a lowly barback in The Nightshade Lounge, owned by her best friend’s uncle. While closing up the bar one night, she discovers that cocktails, when made exactly right, grant the drinker magical abilities. Bartenders, like her friend Zane, imbibe these drinks to fight off monsters called tremens, demons that prey on drunks. Bailey eventually joins the ranks of the bartenders, mixing magical drinks and fighting demons while navigating her career and the politics of Cupbearer’s Court.

Last Call is a fun romp through Chicago, and there’s plenty of humor throughout the book. There’s some funny and self-aware moments that really made me smile. Some of the jokes do fall flat, particularly the character Bucket’s Canadian pride. The gag goes on so long that “Canadian” becomes Bucket’s one and only character trait, culminating into the reveal that his van has a huge Canadian flag on the side. I wanted to laugh at this, but after 90 or so pages of Canadian jokes, it just got old.

I was a little wary about a female protagonist being written by a male author, because it’s not uncommon for men to write women very poorly. This could be anything from oversexualizing female characters, having goals that only center around men, being a ditzy doormat, or just being a boring badass. (If you really want some entertaining examples, search “describe yourself like a male author would” on Twitter). I was pleased that I didn’t encounter any of these pitfalls. Bailey’s smart, ambitious, and she’s not afraid to take risks to do what she thinks is right. She makes mistakes and has to learn from them. Ultimately, her tenacity is what lets her triumph over her supernatural and mundane adversities.

The love triangle was far more problematic for me. Bailey develops a crush on Zane, who she had hooked up with once shortly after her high school graduation. Zane, however, has already found love with his fellow bartender, Mona. Mona is serious and quiet, and…that’s about it. The problem with this love triangle is that it doesn’t challenge the reader. The story structure is pretty predictable, so we can already guess that Bailey and Zane will end up together. What solidifies this, even before the end of the book, is just how boring Mona is. She’s great at killing demons, but she doesn’t share any of the characters’ excitement, or their interest for making a legendary Long Island Ice Tea. Mona had the potential to be a really intriguing character, but just ends up being flat and dull.

Because Mona is so boring and at times downright unlikable, there’s no reason for the reader to want to see her stay with Zane. The love triangle is cut and dry. We all know how it ends long before Bailey and Zane kiss.

Overall, though, Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge is a fun, light read, for anyone who likes cocktails and magic.

Now, the (mostly) one-sentence chapter breakdown!

Prologue: Is the cop going to show up again, or is this just in media res for no reason?

Chapter 1: The writing is actually funny, if a bit predictable.

Chapter 2: Hooray, the main character knows what the audience should have already known just by reading the back of the book.

Chapter 3: It’s moving pretty simply so far: Call to Adventure, Meeting with the Mentor and now answering the Call to Adventure.

Chapter 4: I’m hoping that the love triangle becomes somewhat more interesting, but I’m not holding my breath.

Chapter 5: Finally, we get to see Bailey fail at something!

Chapter 6: I’ll forgive the kiss because adrenaline makes us do crazy things, but I really doubt Bailey hasn’t seen Zane since high school.

Chapter 7: Good, an escape from the love triangle.

Chapter 8: The author does a good job making sure that Bucket being transgender is no big deal, but never stops reminding you that he’s Canadian.

Chapter 9: Okay, this was pretty awesome.

Chapter 10: How does Zane make the leap from “we just fought off an army” to “we need to make the alcoholic version of a philosopher’s stone”?

Chapter 11: The stuff at Bailey’s interview is funny, but could the book yell, “these guys are douchebags” any louder?

Chapter 12: I don’t know if I should complain about Mona’s blandness here, or the obvious foreshadowing that she’s probably immortal.

Chapter 13: Man, it’s awfully convenient that the person trying to brew the McGuffin is giving Bailey a job interview.

Chapter 14: Vincent’s my favorite, but being the mentor character, he’s about to get written off.

Chapter 15: YOU KILLED THE DOG?!

Chapter 16: Curious how Vincent thinks Bailey stabbed Bowie in the back by…using what he taught her to accidentally stumble on a devastating secret that will get people killed if she doesn’t do anything about it?

Chapter 17: I want to appreciate the Sailor Moon reference in this chapter, but Tuxedo Mask doesn’t wear an actual tuxedo. He wears a white dinner suit, which is one of the many reasons why Tuxedo Mask is just the worst.*

Chapter 18: Oh no, whoever thought the boring, stoic, and mysterious Mona would be the bad guy. Gasp.

Chapter 19: After watching Bailey kick ass throughout the book, she needs to get saved by someone at the last minute.

Chapter 20: Oh my God, Bucket. You’re Canadian. We get it.

*This is the most pedantic thing I’ve ever written, but seriously. Get your shit together, Tuxedo Mask.

Eragon 52-53: Tronjheim

Two states and one long hiatus later, I’m back. And so is Eragon.

Fasten your seat belts, kids, this is gonna be a long one.

Well, chapter 53, “Ajihad”, is going to be a long one. The chapter before it, “The Glory of Tronjheim” is much shorter, and a lot less interesting.

From the start of chapter 52, I thought it was going to be a bit more standard for the book. After all, it starts with Eragon’s ham-fisted and direct characterization of Murtagh while they’re stuck in a cell in Tronjheim together. Then, he goes to examine a lantern nearby. The description of the lamp takes up an entire paragraph.

I should have known then. How could I not see it?

This is not a chapter with plot. It is ten pages of description as Eragon goes from one part of the city to another.

Credit where it’s due:  I’ve given Paolini a lot of shit here, but descriptions are one thing he does well. My favorite scenes in this book are Eragon and Saphira flying, or swimming in Leona Lake. Those moments are what make me keep reading this, because they capture something magical and beautiful.

There are authors who can evoke the setting in such a way that it becomes another character. Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It does this magnificently and Terry Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork is familiar to me as any city I’ve walked through in real life.

I don’t think Paolini is quite at that level yet, but I’m honestly envious of his talent for description. It’s one thing that I’m always struggling to improve in my own writing.

Hey, Paolini, wanna team up? I’ll bring the characters, you bring the setting, and together we’ll make something halfway decent!

The real problem I have with this chapter is that it just kind of drags on. Nothing happens, other than “Eragon went here and saw a pretty thing. Then he went here and saw another pretty thing.”

I’m sure there’s someone who really liked this chapter for that reason. But that wasn’t me.

The next chapter, though, is much more interesting. Eragon meets Ajihad, the leader of the Varden, and our old friend “intense” makes a comeback!

He bore himself with great dignity, exuding an intense, commanding air.

Still not great writing, but at least “intense” makes more sense here.

Then Ajihad tells Eragon something truly baffling about the bald man who went through Eragon’s memories. He has a twin brother, equally bald and magical. But the truly bewildering part is that neither of the twins have names.

How the hell do they not have names? How hard is it to give someone a name? “From now on you’re George and you’re Elliot? You like those names? Cool.” See? It’s that easy. The Varden are literally denying these mages an identity. Treating them as non-persons is just asking them to betray you.

This all gets hand-waved away, though, because Ajihad discovers Murtagh’s identity by recognizing…Morzan’s voice. Apparently Murtagh and Morzan sound similar.

Much as I want to call bullshit on the “hereditary voice tone”, I can’t, because I’m told that I have the same voice as my mom. So I’ll give this one a pass.

Anyway, Murtagh refuses to let the Twins see into his mind, while he and Ajihad toss the word “probe” around a few more times, just to make everyone uncomfortable.

And Murtagh is so, so stupid. He thinks that everyone in the Varden will treat him like an outcast if they know who he is, which is entirely possible. Or–and stay with me here, Murtagh–he could just let the Twins examine him. Not only would he have information about Galby’s court that the Varden could use, they would see that he hates Galby.

Of course, no one can see this blatantly obvious solution, so Murtagh is imprisoned indefinitely. I know conflict is supposed to propel story, but this just seems so…unnecessary.

Eragon and Ajihad go one to discuss Eragon’s adventures thus far, and Eragon tells him about fighting and presumably killing the Shade Durza. But whenever I read a description of Durza, with his white face and red hair, he just sounds like Ronald McDonald to me. I guess clowns can be scary, but a fast food mascot hardly strikes fear into my heart.

Ajihad also fills Eragon in on just how Saphira’s egg wound up in the Spine, where our hero found it. This is important information and answers a lot of questions from the beginning of the book, and normally I like backstory. What I do not like, however, is a single character droning on for pages without any pause from the dialogue.

The tl;dr version is this: Brom stole Saphira’s egg, which will only hatch when the right person touches it. The egg is ferried between the Varden and the Elves, and the kids of each group would gather ’round and touch it, and see if it hatched. If it did, Brom and the Elves would share the responsibility of training the new Rider. Arya was attacked by Durza while transporting the egg, and magically teleported it to the Spine, where Eragon found it.

A few things here.

First of all, a species that can only reproduce by the right person touching its eggs might be the worst means of keeping a species alive. No wonder the dragons died out. Galby didn’t kill them all, their poor breeding techniques did!

Secondly, Arya is a princess, because of course she is. Why is she doing the dirty work of moving the egg from place to place? Doesn’t she have princessy things to do?

And what the hell was Brom doing in Carvahall in the first place? Eragon’s village is literally on the other side of the world from both the Varden and the Elven homeland. He couldn’t have known that the egg would disappear and then reappear in the Spine. Logically, he should have been with the Varden the whole time.

I’m not sure these questions are ever actually answered. At least, not as far as I’ve read in the series. At some point it’s revealed that Eragon is actually Brom’s son, so it’s possible Brom went to Carvahall to keep an eye on him. If I wanted to confirm this, though, I’d probably have to finish reading the series, but I have good books to read instead.

After the history lesson, Ajihad also tells Eragon some of the goings-on at the Varden, including encrypted notes discussing a place called Ithrö Zhâda.

Ithrö Zhâda.

After I read that, I had to put the book down and weep for the flagrant abuse of accent marks, circumflexes, and diaereses spread throughout this book.

I strongly suspect Paolini didn’t give a flying fuck as to how things actually sounded and just put special characters all over the place because they looked cool.

Though, to be fair, I would’ve done the same thing as a fifteen-year-old novelist.

But I digress. The notes and other evidence points to the Varden having a traitor in their midst. Well, gee, I wonder who that could be. The only other people we’ve met so far who don’t have names and the Varden doesn’t treat like human beings? And if the answer “The Twins” really isn’t that obvious, why doesn’t Ajihad just have the Twins scan everyone and see if they’re the traitors?

I’m beginning to think Ajihad is not such a great leader.

I’ll leave you with one last cringey quote from Eragon, which came straight out of nowhere:

I’ll fight when needed, revel when there’s occasion, mourn when there is grief, and die if my time comes…but I won’t let anyone use me against my will.

 

Eragon 40-41: Capture at Gil’ead

And so we keep moving forward with Eragon, and the next chapter, “Capture at Gil’ead”. Hm, I wonder what’s going to happen here? As chapters titles go, I guess it’s not bad. Certainly, no worse than “Doom of Innocence”. But it doesn’t leave much room for suspense. However, the title does come from the only memorable part of this chapter, so there’s that.

Most of this chapter seems like filler. Eragon and Murtagh are traveling to Gil’ead, where Brom had instructed Eragon to go before he died. I found it really boring and uneventful. This is partly because I’ve been reading Storm of Swords, where characters can’t step out their door for five minutes before something terrible happens, never mind a long journey. Where’s the bandits and gore? But more than that, this chapter covers weeks worth of travel, long enough for Eragon’s broken ribs to heal, and we see only three conversations between Eragon and Murtagh, and even less of Saphira. All the events are glossed over, and it’s really disappointing.

For instance, Eragon and Murtagh must ride near Urû’baen*, the capital where Galby reigns. Eragon and Saphira have just escaped from some of Galby’s most fearsome allies, and everyone loyal to the king will be on the look-out for them. They’ll have to use all their wits and skills to keep Saphira hidden and remain free, or else a fate most foul awaits them.

Or not. Instead, we get this.

Their travels north forced them toward the capital, Urû’baen. It was a heavily populated area, which made it difficult to escape notice. Soldiers patrolled the roads and guarded the bridges. It took them several tense, irritable days to skirt the capital.

That’s it. Seriously, that’s all we get. What might have been exciting and tense is boiled down to one insipid paragraph.

There’s another thing I’m trying to figure out as well. When I first read this book, I really liked Murtagh. He was easily my favorite character. Now, I’m honestly trying to remember why. I think it’s because he’s a badass with a dark and mysterious past, and I always did like angsty boys.** But Murtagh hasn’t exhibited much personality other than those few traits. Even when though we’ve known him for a few chapters now, we still don’t know much more about him as a person than we did when we first met him. In this chapter he demonstrates that he’s smarter than Eragon, but so are most characters in this book.

After pages of being told (not shown) that Eragon and Murtagh are friends, they arrive near Gil’ead and Murtagh arranges a meeting with one of Brom’s allies. But then–gasp!–Eragon loses consciousness. Again. And gets captured. Again.

How many times has he fainted now? I stopped counting.

Eragon wakes in a cell, drugged and dopey. He’s fairly sedated, to the point where he can’t remember enough of the Ancient Language to use magic to escape. He does see the elf from his dreams, Arya, in the prison, and her description is…well…

Her long midnight-black hair obscured her face, despite a leather strip bound around her head to hold the tresses back. [. . .] Her sculpted face was as perfect as a painting. Her round chin, high cheekbones, and long eyelashes gave her an exotic look. The only mar in her beauty was a scrape along her jaw; nevertheless, she was the fairest woman he had ever seen.

It made me roll my eyes, but then I remembered that the elves in this universe are a race of Mary Sues. Brom did imply this before, and the point really gets hammered home in the sequel, Eldest. After remembering that, I don’t mind it as much. At least it makes sense with the rest of the book.

No, it’s Eragon’s reaction that’s truly worthy of an eye roll.

Eragon’s blood burned as he looked at her. Something awoke in him–something he had never felt before. It was an obsession, except stronger, almost a fevered madness.

producers

All other obvious jokes aside, I do have another nit to pick about this chapter. In the first book in the series, Eragon’s greatest enemy is Durza, the Shade. Remember Durza, how scary he was?

Oh, no, you don’t. Or, at least, I didn’t. Until now, Durza had only been in the prologue. There was passing mention of Shades and how dangerous they are, but I don’t think we’re ever told what exactly a Shade is. Far more time is spent learning about the Ra’zac or dragons, which is fair. But when it becomes clear that Eragon wouldn’t be able to defeat the Ra’zac, his new enemy becomes Durza. But since we know next to nothing about Shades or Durza, his sudden appearance here doesn’t do much to scare the reader.

That, and because Durza’s description sounds like Ronald McDonald. White face with red lips and hair? Forget powerful magician, he’s a hamburger-slinging clown.

Durza has a conversation with Eragon, saying that he’s visiting the cell just to gloat at capturing a Dragon Rider. You know, an action that’s never led to any villain’s downfall, ever. In truth, he comes to find out exactly what Eragon’s “true name” is, which is a wasted effort as Eragon doesn’t even know what it really is.

If you ask me, the true purpose of their conversation is to remind the reader that Eragon has enemies besides the Ra’zac, but Durza doesn’t feel particularly threatening, especially since it’s been more than 40 chapters since we last heard from the Shade, or cared about what he was doing.

*Do you really need both the apostrophe and the û?! One is more than enough. Now you’re just fucking with us, Paolini.
**Adulting Protip: Leave the dark, brooding male lead in fiction where he belongs. Do not date him in real life. 

An Ember in the Ashes

I’m back, baby! I’ll be getting back to Eragon shortly, but I’d like to take a a moment to review a more recent book, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. I’ll also be posting parts of this review on GoodReads, so don’t worry–I’m only plagiarizing myself.

An Ember in the Ashes follows the stories of two main characters: Laia and Elias, with each chapter switching between their perspectives. They lead very different lives in the Empire; Laia is a poor Scholar, while Elias is one of the top students at the elite military academy, Blackcliff. When Laia’s brother is jailed for treason and her family is killed, she seeks the help of the Resistance to save him. In exchange for freeing him, she agrees to spy on the Commandant, the leader of Blackcliff. Elias dreams of freedom outside of Blackcliff and plans to desert after his graduation, even though doing so is punishable by death. When fate intervenes, Elias stays at Blackcliff, where he finally meets Laia, and their lives are forever changed.

As long as you don’t mind first-person present tense or changing character perspectives every chapter, the prose is quite good. I never came across a line that made me want to pull my hair out because it was so poorly phrased, which is more than I can say for some of the books I’ve reviewed on this blog. Even so, some of Laia’s chapters just felt like they were padding, and only part of the book to keep with the pattern of switching between the two characters. This is especially true during Part 2, when most of Laia’s chapters are just details of the Commandant’s abuse. They don’t reveal any new information about Laia or the Commandant, nor do they move the plot forward. I’m all for treating your characters horribly, but at least make sure that their suffering is for something. Laia herself is a rather insipid character. She doesn’t grow much throughout the novel, her most daring moment being when she agrees to spy for the Resistance. Even that seems out-of-character for her, as she’s quite meek and doesn’t take risks. Elias’s side of the story is more interesting, and he’s one of the few characters in the book I ended up liking. At times, I really felt that the novel could benefit by removing Laia’s chapters entirely.

Laia’s character isn’t the only one that needs to be fleshed out. The Commandant – who is also Elias’s mother – is the lead villain in the story. She is evil because…well, because she’s evil. She enjoys abusing her slaves, killing members of the Resistance, and actively tries to get others to murder Elias. Her reason behind all this? She’s evil. She’s never made even slightly sympathetic, and the readers are never really shown her motives.

The world building is also problematic. The first two chapters are in media res. It might be exciting, but because the book’s just starting out, the reader has nothing invested in the two main characters. We don’t have any reason to like them, and can’t really appreciate the impact of their actions until later in the book. Exposition in the beginning of the book feels heavy-handed and shoved in for the benefit of the audience. In later chapters it comes more naturally. Or maybe I’d just gotten used to it at that point.

An Ember in the Ashes wasn’t really a book for me. Sometimes I thought the book would redeem itself, but for everything in it that I liked, it did two things that I didn’t. At the end of the day, its flaws outweighed its strengths.

Still, if it sounds like a book you might enjoy, check it out. I just wouldn’t recommend paying full price.

I only came to read An Ember in the Ashes in the first place was because my sister and I are in a small book club. Obviously, this wasn’t my selection for the group. My sister and I were not overly thrilled with the prospect of reading yet another young adult book staring a girl in an oppressed society starting a revolution and finding true love along the way. To help keep us both sane–and give us something to smile about while we dragged ourselves through this–I texted her a one-sentence review of each chapter. Please, enjoy my descent into madness.

  • Chapter 1: I read this chapter three hours ago and I already forgot the brother’s name because that’s how little I care.
  • Chapter 2: There’s so little world building or characterization that I neither understand the importance of or care about anything that’s happening.
  • Chapter 3: All the things I dislike in this chapter won’t fit in a single sentence.
  • Chapter 4: If Elias wanted to desert, why didn’t he run when the school literally kicked him out to survive on his own for four years?
  • Chapter 5: Have I ever mentioned how much I hate first-person present tense?
  • Chapter 6: Not really loving the way the exposition was handled here, but it’s more than the rest of the book has given us so far.
  • Chapter 7: At this point, “character development” would mean that the main character develops a personality.
  • Chapter 8: Just once, I would like to read a young adult fantasy novel that never uses the word “destiny”.
  • Chapter 9: I’m a little amazed that I have the willpower to not throw this book across the room.
  • Chapter 10: You know, it is possible to write a young adult fiction without having a “chosen one”.
  • Chapter 11: Wait, when did Laia grow a spine?
  • Chapter 12: The more I think about the details of Blackcliff Academy, the less sense it makes.
  • Chapter 13: I really hope the Commandant becomes an actual character, and not just a villain who’s evil for the sake of being evil.
  • Chapter 14: OF COURSE LAIA IS SO BEAUTIFUL WITH HER GOLDEN EYES AND LONG EYELASHES AND “FULL LIPS”
  • Chapter 15: When will this end?
  • Chapter 16:  Every time this book comes close to being cool, it ruins it.
  • Chapter 17: Laia’s chapters are nothing but light torture porn.
  • Chapter 18: I seriously suspect Sabaa Tahir has mommy issues.
  • Chapter 19: This is not how you build a strong female lead.
  • Chapter 20: Changing perspectives every chapter makes the slow story progression less noticeable, and I’m not sure if Tahir is a genius, or can’t get a handle on pacing.
  • Chapter 21: All of Laia’s chapters in a nutshell: Laia is sad because someone either tells her she makes a lousy spy or hurts her.
  • Chapter 22: There’s one female character with depth, and her entire arc is about men lusting after her.
  • Chapter 23: I make a motion to replace all Laia chapters with Spiro Teluman chapters.
  • Chapter 24: Can we talk for a second about how Elias and Helene didn’t actually use their cunning to pass the Trial of Cunning?
  • Chapter 25: This chapter made me so happy because it means I’m halfway through this waste of paper.
  • Chapter 26: I strongly suspect Helene’s sudden burst of racism is because Tahir noticed she was a much better female lead than Laia.
  • Chapter 27: Generally, it takes normal human beings more than thirty-second conversations to fall in love with each other, no matter how beautiful they are.
  • Chapter 28: This is just four pages of Elias thinking Laia is hot.
  • Chapter 29: If the flirting in this chapter was any more awkward or forced, it would be the second Avengers movie. #2Burns1Stone
  • Chapter 30: This book talks about sexual violence a lot.
  • Chapter 31:  Achievement unlocked: cameo character is more intriguing than main character.
  • Chapter 32: I also vote to remove insipid and predictable love triangles.
  • Chapter 33: NOPE.
  • Chapter 34: Can we go one chapter without mentioning rape?  
  • Chapter 35: I’m not sure what I hate more: that Helene goes completely against her established character, or that Laia’s only role in this book is to be a punching bag.
  •  Chapter 36: The Helene-Elias romance subplot is so, so dumb.
  • Chapter 37:  Five bucks says the Resistance is going to betray Laia.
  • Chapter 38: And now we’ll take a break from an Ember in the Ashes to bring you a less interesting version of The Hunger Games.
  • Chapter 39: You know, this backstory would have been really useful AT THE BEGINNING OF THE FUCKING BOOK.
  • Chapter 40: There are so many logical holes in the Trial of Strength I wouldn’t be able to list them all here.
  • Chapter 41: Laia, how are you this stupid and still alive?
  • Chapter 42: So many eyerolls.
  • Chapter 43:If the Commandant knew that Laia was a slave since the Moon Festival, why didn’t she kill her much sooner?
  • Chapter 44: The “Trial of Loyalty” is really just a test of who could get to Laia the fastest.
  • Chapter 45: I call bullshit on Laia suddenly be able to take the Resistance leader hostage, in his own hideout, surrounded by his supporters.
  • Chapter 46: This is the closest thing we get to an explanation of the Commandant’s anti-social behavior, and it still fails to explain anything or make her an iota more sympathetic.
  • Chapter 47: Laia is way overdue to become a strong heroine, but when it actually happens, it just is out of character for her.
  • Chapter 48: I’m supposed to feel something at Elias’s rapidly impending death, but mostly I’m annoyed that all he’s doing is whining and quoting Serenity.
  • Chapter 49: We really shouldn’t have to wait until the second-to-last chapter of the book for the main character to do something useful.
  • Chapter 50: OH THANK GOD I’M DONE

Final Thoughts:

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I hated this book. The love triangles were unnecessary and sloppily written, the magical aspects go unexplained, the villains are never given any depth, Laia is almost on par with Bella Swan as a female lead, and the book doesn’t even freaking end. I’ve read 50 chapters of this crap, and nothing gets resolved: not the romantic subplots, Laia’s quest to save her brother, or even a basic explanation of Helene’s sudden magical powers. Nope, there’s a sequel coming out, and someone’s already got the movie rights.

And, to get on my soapbox for a minute, this is also on par with Twilight for bad female role models. Helene is the token strong girl, but her entire character arc is about men lusting after her, and her doing anything she can to keep Elias alive. Including swearing fealty to the man who has directly said that he’s going to rape her. Laia’s not much better, as her arc is almost entirely her getting tortured or beaten up (and then rescued by Elias)–for another male character, albeit her brother–and she doesn’t do anything proactive until the very end of the book. The one female character whose arc doesn’t revolve around a man is the Commandant, who is a heartless monster (for no fucking reason).

This book is 446 pages of drivel. Sabaa Tahir’s prose is well-written, but the characters are flat and boring, and the story has no satisfying resolution.

Screw this. It’s my turn to choose the next book for book club, and after reading Me Before YouThe Nightingale, and now, An Ember in the Ashes, I need to get away from all this stupid chick lit. If you need me, I’ll be nose deep in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?