3 out of 5 stars
The once-great An Ember in the Ashes series ends with one too many books.
An Ember in the Ashes was the first book I reviewed on this blog, back in March 2017 (and I adored it). Having taken four years to read the series, I can only imagine the daunting task of writing such epic fiction. It often happens that the smaller, more immediate stories of the first installments are much more satisfying – more urgent, and honestly, just better – than the over-arching “big” plot. Some series use up all their energy getting there, with little left for the finish. Sadly, Sabaa Tahir’s series burned out far too early for me.
Our heroes Laia, Elias, and Helene finally find themselves united against a common enemy: the Nightbringer. Their Roman-esque Martial Empire has split, Helene at the head of one side, while uber-villain Keris Veturia has joined forces with the Nightbringer on the other. Each is supported by a cast so broad, with every kind of person and supernatural being, that it’s like arriving at the finale of Avengers: Endgame and trying to remember who all these freaking people are.
Mostly what happens in this book is painstaking repetition. Everyone is doing everything they have done on every page that came before. Elias is torn over his eternal role as the boring AF, please-spare-us-this-is-so-dull Soulcatcher. Laia wants Elias. Helene wants Harper but can’t be distracted by wanting Harper which is distracting her from wanting Harper. A hundred Jinn all get backstories. The Nightbringer is tormented and is he bad or good or both or our fault and what about that time he was a hot guy and… on, and on until my patience truly ran out. GET ON WITH IT. And “it” is a pretty spectacular, world-changing battle that, to be honest, I was only half-interested in. Nothing that surprising happened. The series ends as I would have guessed at the end of book three, with no real need to have read book four at all.
It’s fun to revisit old reviews after reading a new installment. (Not before, I don’t want to remind myself to expect anything other than greatness.) Now reading my thoughts on book three, A Reaper at the Gates, I realize two things:
- I didn’t remember finding that book dull. Time gave it all the benefits of having come after two great books, with the expectation of another to follow.
- I was right. It dragged. A little less conversation, a little more action, please. I would forgive this had it been gearing up for a wham-bam of a finale, but it was not.
My favorite part of that review: “And they talk so much. Is this what hell is like? Endless pages of whining on in slow, overwrought explanation of things you were already trying to get away from?”
Ultimately, books three and four in this series should have been one book. Cut out all the navel-gazing and retreading, the endless dithering about soulcatching and ghosts, and we would have had an entire series in the 4.5-star range. Get me there, then get out. That’s the only way this series could have left me breathless.