The Whimsical Mama

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*Review* An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir June 9, 2016

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***mild spoilers may follow***

Rating:  5 stars
Pub date: 28 April 2015
Publisher: Razorbill
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Format: hardcover, personal copy
Status: Book one of An Ember in the Ashes series

Summary:

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

My thoughts:

I thought I had reviewed An Ember in the Ashes last year after I read it, but apparently I didn’t. Ah, well. I will now after a re-read! I have to say, I loved An Ember in the Ashes as much the second time as I did the first. Maybe a smidge more knowing that there for certain is a sequel! Even better that I have jumped straight into A Torch Against the Night thanks to Mary letting me borrow her copy! (Look for that review soon too!)

Once again, I was immediately hooked into the fantastical Ancient Rome type setting. Ancient Rome is one of my favourite time periods to study. I also enjoyed the military aspect of Elias. As an Army wife, there’s a fine line between just enough military influence, and can this military crap end already. Sabaa Tahir manages to weave the military training and life in a great balance with Laia’s side of the tale.

Sabaa Tahir proves she’s going to be a master of world building for this series. She has created an entire new world, but masterfully draws on one of the most influential times. She also pulls from mythology, but spins it to something entirely new. She introduces aspects of the mythology through children’s rhymes remembered by the characters as young adults. It’s fascinating to see the characters realise something they’ve always considered children’s stories to come to life before their eyes. There’s a few desert scenes which ups the ante on survival struggles.

I really enjoyed the presentation of the Trials in the book. I won’t go into too much detail on what is involved in the Trials as they are obviously a giant part of the story. They really make you stop and think about what you would do in a situation like that. Let’s just say could you kill your best friend if your life depended on it? Speaking of best friend, Helene, Elias’s best friend is easily my favourite character. I love a strong heroine who doesn’t need to depend on a guy to come to her aid and actually gets a little PO’d when Elias tries to help when she’s capable of handling herself. XX chromosome does not equal an incapability to kick some butt!

It was very interesting to have alternating point of views, but if you don’t pay close enough attention to chapter breaks, you might lose who is who for a moment! I think it would have helped a bit if the different POV were in different colours like the Legend trilogy. And on the note of alternating POV, I would love to see more Helene in A Torch Against the Night. Not sure how that will play out due to the nature of the ending of An Ember in the Ashes, but a girl can hope! Helene is definitely a secondary character in need of a promotion!

Another credit to Sabaa Tahir’s world building is in her writing style. She manages to write quite vividly without overloading the reader in tedious details (I’m looking at you, Tolkien). This writing style really helps keep the action glowing quickly and the reader engaged. I will admit that Elias’s chapters are a bit faster paced and better than Laia’s chapters. I think it is a good balance though. It helps with the ebb and flow of the story. It can’t all be high otherwise the story would have nowhere to go.

For me, the romance stayed on the border of problematic. While it will be interesting to see where things go in A Torch Against the Night, I could have used a bit less in the romantic drama department. I guess with such a focus on military, fighting, and gore, the romance just seemed a bit misplaced at times. Also, love triangles. Ugh. Or squares or whatever shape this one might be.

Last year, before it released, An Ember in the Ashes was SURROUNDED by massive hype. Especially with the rumour of being a potential standalone, but ending leaving the reader wanting MORE. There was a strong push for pre-orders and early purchasing to help draw attention to the desire of another book. Normally I see a hyped book and I flee in the other direction. I’m often the black sheep when it comes to hyped books or it being hyped adds far too much pressure to enjoy the book. I decided to pick up a (signed!) copy at Parnassus Books when I was down for the Sarah J Maas signing. It was a fabulous decision. Not only did I love it, a sequel was also announced which helped the ending.

I highly recommend An Ember in the Ashes. Few books, in my opinion, deserve the hype, but An Ember in the Ashes is one of those few. It is full of complex issues and very fleshed out characters. Sabaa Tahir is a powerful wordsmith and should stay on your radar for future amazing books!

About the Author

Sabaa Tahir grew up in California’s Mojave Desert at her family’s 18-room motel. There, she spent her time devouring fantasy novels, raiding her brother’s comic book stash and playing guitar badly. She began writing An Ember in the Ashes while working nights as a newspaper editor. She likes thunderous indie rock, garish socks and all things nerd. Sabaa currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.

 

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*Review* The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory July 14, 2013

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The Red Queen (The Cousin’s War)

Rating: 2 stars
Pub date: 3 Aug 2010
Publisher: Touchstone
Genre: Historical fiction, Romance, Adult Fiction
Format: Hardback, obtained from the Public Library

Book 2 of The Cousins’ War series

Summary
The second book in Philippa’s stunning new trilogy, The Cousins War, brings to life the story of Margaret Beaufort, a shadowy and mysterious character in the first book of the series – The White Queen – but who now takes centre stage in the bitter struggle of The War of the Roses. The Red Queen tells the story of the child-bride of Edmund Tudor, who, although widowed in her early teens, uses her determination of character and wily plotting to infiltrate the house of York under the guise of loyal friend and servant, undermine the support for Richard III and ultimately ensure that her only son, Henry Tudor, triumphs as King of England. Through collaboration with the dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret agrees a betrothal between Henry and Elizabeth’s daughter, thereby uniting the families and resolving the Cousins War once and for all by founding of the Tudor dynasty.

In all honesty, I was tempted to give up on this book. The magical and captivating character of Elizabeth Woodville made The White Queen a joy to read. I devoured each section and could hardly put it down. The opposite is true with The Red Queen . I really struggled. The sanctimonious, whiny, selfish, and narcissistic Margaret Beaufort is just a giant put off. If it weren’t for the worry of missing something in this book that might be referenced in the future series books, I would’ve probably abandoned it. That takes a lot from me. I don’t bail on books easily or lightly. Strictly based on the main character, I would’ve bailed. The historical time frame helped redeem it. I’m obsessed with all things Tudors and this is their matriarch.

It opens just before her first marriage to Edmund Tudor. All she cares about is her blasted “saint’s knees” from praying so much. It’s all she goes on about is how she has saints’ knees and she wants to be a Mother Superior of her own order. She’s obsessed with Joan of Arc, and honestly, I think she blows Joan of Arc’s position out of proportion. She wants people to comment on her piety and she goes to great lengths to advertise how pious she is. She flaunts it and baits people to comment. In this ambitious time of England, no one cares about how much you pray. Everyone cares about which house you support: York or Lancaster. Margaret is from the Lancaster house and is the heir apparent to it. This doesn’t jive in this male dominated world. She laments at not being well-educated though she is much more educated than most girls of the time. This is a world that a woman is only good for the sons she will bare.

At twelve, she is married off to Edmund Tudor, half-brother of the current King of England, Henry VI. She constantly complains that he does his husbandly duty and doesn’t allow her to pray 24/7. She complains that he’s constantly away with his brother Jasper. She complains that she’s in the middle of nowhere in Wales. She complains about the language, the staff of the household, the food, anything and everything to anyone and everyone within earshot.

She finds herself pregnant and is little more than a child herself. War is brewing in the land as the Yorks are unhappy with their lot of being a minor royal house and think themselves better than the Lancaster rulers. Doesn’t help things that Henry VI is slowly losing his touch with reality. Margaret relates this to herself and says they are both chosen by God to do His will and the king is just seeing visions. Things keep getting worse and her husband is captured and dies before her baby is born. Jasper returns to her just before she delivers. Her mother has given orders to the ladies in waiting to order the midwives that if it comes to choosing between the mother and the baby to save the baby. Save the baby above all costs ESPECIALLY if it is a boy. Margaret realises she is worthless as a girl. She has a long and difficult delivery, but finally gives birth to a boy. Jasper wants to name the child after his father, but Margaret claiming divine intervention and the usual that she’s been directed to name the child Henry and he shall be a King of England.

She finds out that she is to be married off again. This time to a man much older than she is. Her first husband was already more than 10 years older and now this husband is even older than the first. He is the second son of the Duke of Buckingham. She comes to see that her new husband is much kinder than Tudor, but she thinks him a coward because he does not wish to get involved in the chaos that is consuming England. She constantly nags him about joining the cause and fighting for her, her son who is the heir of the Lancasters, and for his king. He politely points out that he is keeping them sage by staying out of the fighting. She keeps believing he’s a coward. She is so naive about her views of the world and how “wronged” she has been. Her son was third from the throne while Henry VI was king, and is now completely disinherited while Edward of York sits on the throne. *Her* throne. She fails to remember that throne passes to the males. She begins to obsess over Edward of York and his wife, Elizabeth Woodville. She deems Elizabeth to be sub par and of inferior birth and a waste of space. She obsesses over the fact it should be her by Edward’s side if things had played out better. She switches from calling Elizabeth a whore and a witch and celebrates that she is more holy and educated. She has been touched by the hand of God, but that harlot sits on the throne and pops out babies every time you turn around! She constantly prays for their deaths and the deaths of their children. Not something a saint should be concerned with, in my opinion.

Her husband dies and she then obsesses about wedding Edward instead of him being married to that witch. But he’ll want to have all sorts of sex and expect her to get pregnant and have babies, and she’s a saint and shouldn’t do that stuff. Seriously, this is her thought process. I want this, but I’m a saint. My son should be king, because I’m a saint. I have saints’ knees and should sign my name as Margaret R.

She decides to break the year of mourning and approaches husband number three. He’s a lord in his own right and she petitions marriage, with no sex, and she keeps her lands. Lord Stanley accepts because he’s in it for himself too. His family’s motto is Sans Changer and they do anything but STOP changing. Where Stafford (husband 2) didn’t want to fight at all, Stanley waits to see who the winning side will be THEN charge into battle.

Edward dies, and the Queen flees into sanctuary with the royal children, except the Prince of Wales who is escorted to the royal apartments at the Tower so the Lord Protector, Richard of Gloucester, can make coronation preparations. Then he has the royal children declared illegitimate and seizes the throne for himself. Cue more sainthood claiming and throne loss lamenting. There’s a failed uprising, disgrace – resulting in losing her lands and wealth to her husband and is sent into exile. The new Queen dies and to save his royal niece/lover from scandal she is sent to live with Margaret. A battle for supreme childish bitch starts.

Finally, it boils down to Henry Tudor versus King Richard III on the battleground. England is torn apart again. Back the Lancaster claimant who grew up in exile or back the usurper who stole the throne from his brother’s son and most likely had his two nephews executed? Battle ensues and at the last moment, the Stanley armies swoop in to aid Tudor. Richard is executed and his body just dumped (cue best game of hide and seek EVER!). His crown is stripped from his head and given to Tudor who becomes Henry VII and the first of the Tudor dynasty. Word makes it back to Margaret that her son won and all she cares about is that she gets to sign her name as Margaret R.

That’s about it. Despite a huge war-torn time period, this book really lacks in action until the last bit. That’s about it in the redeeming aspect. Will I read it again? Possibly. Anytime soon? Not a chance. I am looking forward to the next book though. It HAS to be better than this!

 

 
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