Friday, 17 April 2015

Review: Ember by Bettie Sharpe

5 stars 
"I know you think you've heard this story before, but you're wrong. Some would have it that this story begins with a virtuous virgin, a young woman of honesty and integrity sucker punched by cruel fortune and forced to sleep among the cinders while her moral inferiors lived the which was meant to be hers. Bullshit. This is no fairytale." 
That's the first paragraph of Ember by Bettie Sharpe, and it's certainly not the last time the heroine, Ember, breaks the fourth wall to warn the reader not to glorify her. For all it has the same first-person narration and fantastic setting as the fairytale retellings of my childhood, it's no starry-eyed Ella Enchanted. In fact, it's completely different from anything I've ever read before.

The main character, Ember, is a witch. Not a sanitised bubbles-and-rainbows type of witch (I'm looking at you, Glinda the Good), but a legitimate witch, the kind that makes blood sacrifices and gets her revenge on those who've wronged her.  Her love interest is equally unconventional. At birth, Prince Adrian Juste was blessed with the universal regard of his subjects; men respect him, women want him, and neither can deny him anything. As much as he craves a life where he's not surrounded by sycophants, he's not above using his curse to get what he wants. And he wants Ember, the one woman who isn't affected by his unnatural charm.  

Ember is unburdened by conventional morality, and it makes her an unpredictable and memorable character. As a snarky anti-heroine, she's eminently relatable. Sharpe treads the tightrope between amorality and likability well, keeping the reader onside through Ember's loyalty to her step-mother and -sisters. In this adaptation, Ember's step-family are whores, forced to escape their homeland and make a new life with Ember and her father.  Once again, Sharpe deals with this sensitively, and provides the reader with a raft of great secondary characters at the same time.  One of the things I really loved about this novel was that all of its characters were well-developed, independent of gendered stereotypes. There was no cookie-cutter hero, or same-same good-girl heroine; each and every character was unique and interesting. This in-depth characterisation was countered by a realtively simple plot, but this too was well-executed. 

Potenital readers should be aware that there are a few more swearwords thrown around than usual. I didn't feel like they were gratuitous - Ember's character wouldn't have been half as bad-ass without them, that's for sure - but we each have differing levels of tolerance for these things. Ditto the level of sexuality. While Ember doesn't have any more sex scenes than your average romance novel, Ember and those around her are all overtly sexual beings. Frankly, it would have been weird if this hadn't been the case, given her stepfamily's profession and the Prince's curse!

If I had to critique one thing about Ember, it would be that it was sometimes scarce on details. This occasionally drew me out of the narrative, as I'd have to flick back a page or two to remember where a particular conversation was taking place or some other such thing that had been mentioned, but not reinforced through detailed description. However, I don't feel like this came at the expense of the characterisation or plot, and it didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the book.

Ember was a great read and, at the moment, it's $0.79 on kindle. THAT'S SEVENTY-NINE CENTS, GUYS. You can't even buy a Ghost Drop for 79 cents these days. And unlike many cheap reads on Kindle, there's not a spelling or formatting mistake in sight, in addition to a good plot and excellent characterisation. It's the mythical needle in a haystack, the hen's tooth, the black cat in the coal cellar. I'm getting overly poetic now so I'll stop, but if it sounds like your thing, go get it!

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