I was not expecting to enjoy An Ember in the Ashes so much. I had put off reading it for a while in favor of other things, but now I wish I had read it sooner. It contained everything that, for me makes a good fantasy read. Good world building, interesting characters, a bit of heartbreak, more than one point of view, danger, and some romance were all present. Oh and it has maps too!
While this book was not ground breaking in any way, there are several standard fantasy tropes that are used, I found it very compelling and the characters and situations they faced more complex than most YA fantasy. There are lots of tough choices for the characters to make, and the author doesn't shy away from having them make what seem to be the wrong ones at times, or are they the wrong ones? It made me wonder what I would do in those same situations.
One of the things I really dislike sometimes about YA fantasy is that a villain is built up as being a really horrible dreaded person and then they end up falling short of that, mainly so that the main character can escape their wrath without having to endure too many horrors. I didn't find that the case with this book. The Commandant is very nasty to Laia and does some horrible things to her. There is a constant threat of danger in this book and it kept me reading and on the edge of my seat.
Another thing I liked about this book were the duel points of view from opposing sides, and was I anticipating when Laia and Elias would meet, and then later when they would conspire together, and possibly fall in love. I really liked Laia and the fact that she was just a normal girl who had to learn how to become a spy and figure out who she could and couldn't trust. She felt very real to me. I also really liked Elias and his conflicted feelings. Both points of view were equally compelling.
I have said for a long time that I don't care for love triangles in books, but it seems like the love triangles in several books I've read lately haven't bothered me. This one would be the same, except I guess it's a love square in this book. I think if done correctly love triangles (or squares) are ok. This wasn't the standard love triangle where feelings are based on silly things like how hot someone is or love at first sight. This love triangle didn't feel juvenile at all, but very adult. The mixed feelings of all four characters were believable to me. I did feel like the one weak link would have been Keenen. We don't really get to know him as much as the other three characters. It was actually kind of compelling to try and figure out who would end up with whom, and well we still don't know for sure.
So this was a surprisingly good read and I'm looking forward to reading the next book in April.