Image courtesy of https://sabaatahir.com/
By Kat Kaderabek
As a lover and writer of young adult fiction, there are very few series that leave me feeling emotionally raw and stricken. I’ve seen my fair share of tropes, twists, and tricks; however, the writing of Sabaa Tahir is one of those very few authors that completely captivate me with every word.
The finale to her Ember series, A Sky Beyond the Storm, is an example of such writing.
To describe Tahir’s writing, there is only one word that comes to mind: powerful. Her dialogue, concepts, and delivery are simply powerful and compelling. She writes in a fictional universe, yet her characters undergo the trauma of real people in this world every day; there is a terrifyingly hopeless feeling attached to that.
But Tahir also writes us out of that state. She gives her readers beautiful pockets of moments amongst a sea of suffering that make the read, the journey, the life worth it. Her characters speak to people, which is what makes her books so popular and has gained her the status as a New York Times Best Seller.
Her first novel, An Ember in the Ashes, follows Laia of Serra and Elias Veturius, opposites who long for freedom against the oppressive Empire. Laia, a slave, is forced to enter the Empire’s finest military school as a spy in order to assist a rebellion who has promised to rescue her imprisoned brother in exchange for her assistance. There, she meets Elias, one of the finest soldiers of Blackcliff whose allegiance to the Empire falters, along with his heart.
Make no mistake, Sabaa Tahir’s series is not a romance. While romance is present within the story, there is so much more to her characters and plot. It is a story of sacrifice and suffering, of war and peace, death and divinity, and fear and forgiveness. It is a story about life and its atrocities, but also of the goodness that remains.
Tahir’s writing is terrifying and chilling – like a horror read, her scenes capture readers’ attention and does not let go no matter the tragedy that strikes. She is not afraid to kill characters, twist truths, break necks, and destroy readers’ hearts. This is what makes reading her series so terrifying: none of the characters possess “main character syndrome.”
This writing style is unique amongst a small group of young adult authors. But it makes their books that much more intriguing and persuasive. Every page turned is a breath held as Tahir introduces new horrors that descend upon her quickly loveable characters.
What strikes readers most about this is the reality of it all. Bad things happen to good people, evil people get away with monstrous atrocities, and the goodness of tomorrow is uncertain. It is more than a dystopian series: it is a reflection of this world, distorted but very real.
With beautiful world-building inspired by Ancient Rome, Tahir’s world feels as if it truly does exist in another dimension. Its development throughout the four books is fantastic and diverse.
But the most beautiful aspect of Tahir’s work is her characters. Neither good nor bad, her characters are simply alive. They are slaves, soldiers, simpletons, and sleuths. They possess contradictory traits, dynamic personalities, and morally-gray compasses that make them easily relatable. In truth, her characters teach readers that there are no good guys and bad guys; there are layers and depth and soul to each and every person.
This story, so intricately woven and beautifully framed, deserves to be read. Sabaa Tahir’s words need to be understood. It will make readers better understand the reality of our world and of ourselves.
Without a promise of happily ever after, you will read this book in the same way you go through life: unknowing. Sabaa Tahir captures the beauty of that.