Tuesday, March 22, 2016

2016 Books: An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Razorbill, 2015
446 p.

I have very mixed feelings about An Ember in the Ashes, which combines a lot of the YA dystopian conventions with a Greco-Roman-inspired political situation and some jinn and other fantasy elements. I was completely fascinated by the world-building, especially the military empire, and would have loved to read more about the history and politics and sociology of it. The fantasy elements seemed a bit undercooked - I sort of forgot about them a few times as I read and then was surprised when they popped up - but it was done in a way that made me wonder if they would be more prominent in subsequent books in the series. But as interested as I was in the world of this novel, I had trouble getting invested in the specific characters at the center of it. Honestly, part of this is probably just dystopian fatigue, but it didn't feel like these leads had much to define them aside from a collection of tropes.

I was also disappointed by the sexism of both the narrative and the characters. Now, it makes sense for people living in a militaristic empire with defined gender roles to absorb that worldview, and I do not think that characters need to model correct behavior. But some of this seemed kneejerk rather than designed to illuminate anything about the characters or their world. I'm sick of premises that rely on One Girl Who's Different From The Other Girls, as we have here with one girl allowed into elite military training each generation. And it felt like the narrative was reifying rather than challenging the male lead's sexism when one of his big revelations at the end of the book relied on him realizing "Oh, right, girls always think differently than boys and just care about love stuff."

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