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  • Writer's pictureT. A. Hernandez

Book Review: Embers by EJ Fisch

The long-anticipated conclusion to EJ Fisch's thrilling Ziva Payvan story is finally here!

This book was everything I hoped for and so much more. I'd even go so far as to say it's my favorite Ziva Payvan book ever. I've been heavily invested in this story and these characters from the beginning, and while finishing this left me with the same bittersweet feeling that comes from the end of all good things, I can't think of a more appropriate and satisfying conclusion. But I'm getting ahead of myself, so let's back up a little.

The book picks up right where the last one left off, which, as you may recall, found our characters in one of those high-stakes action scenes Fisch excels at writing. Things are more than a little chaotic for Ziva, Aroska, Skeet, and Zinni--not just in terms of the situation they've been thrust into, but also because of the relational dynamics involved. Everyone is reeling from the events of Fracture and still trying to grasp what that all means for them going forward. Friendships that were once rock-solid are now on tenuous footing, and the pressures that have been building finally boil over as the characters are forced to face each other and reckon with their own and each others' choices.

Ever true to her stubborn survival-at-all-costs nature, Ziva doesn't make that reckoning any easier for anyone...or herself. No longer able to ignore or run from her inner demons, the internal conflict and emotional stakes are higher for her than ever before, and that was the one thing I loved about this book more than anything else (even while constantly screaming at her to please go to therapy). We see her at what seems to truly be rock bottom here, and as difficult as that is, it forces her to finally turn to the people who have been in her corner all along. Including a certain sergeant whose affections for her continue to burn as bright as ever. I've loved the relationship between these two since they first met in Dakiti, and after five books, I can wholeheartedly say the payoff in Embers was absolutely worth the wait.

As with all of Fisch's previous books, the secondary characters are just as well-developed and intriguing as Ziva herself. Skeet and Zinni get ample page time and carry much of the action/thriller side of the plot, which has all the satisfying twists, stakes, and exciting fights you can expect from an EJ Fisch novel. Rival baddies Tobias Niio and Alastair Manes add to the conflict and tension for our protagonists on both an external and internal level. It was especially interesting to see the darker side of Tobias on full display here. HSP Director Emeri Arion also makes some appearances, and I loved all of his scenes and Exasperated Dad vibes. My favorite character (outside the main 4) was an assassin named Ken Oda, a new and mysterious character who always seems to be up to something. He was hard to pin down but ended up playing an interesting role; it would be fun to see some kind of spinoff story about him.

The climax of the novel brings everything to a crashing head that is perfectly paced. I was literally on the edge of my seat flying through the pages as fast as I could but also trying to hold back a little because I didn't want it to end. There are some truly poignant and heartfelt moments between characters sprinkled in with the action, which is exactly what I love to see in epic final battle scenes.

And that ending. Damn. I couldn't have asked for anything better, honestly, which is saying a lot. Anytime you read a series like this, there's a risk of the ending not working and making the rest of the series feel a bit flat when you look back on it. This is exactly the opposite. I can continue to look back on this series with immense fondness and appreciation in large part because the ending was so phenomenal.

The time and care that has so clearly gone into these books has been truly a privilege to experience. Part of me is sad to see the story end. The other, larger part simply can't wait to see what EJ Fisch writes next.

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