An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publication Date: April 28, 2015
Series: An Ember in the Ashes #1
TRIGGER WARNING: violence, slavery, gore, torture, threat of rape
Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.
Under the martial empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier — and secretly, it’s most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined — and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire themselves.
The story is written from the POV of both Laia and Elias, and it’s done really well. The voices are different enough that it was never confusing, and the characters are so different but equally intriguing and engaging. Elias is raised in an elite military school and trained to be a Mask, but it’s the last thing he wants. He hates the way the Empire works and doesn’t want to be a part of it.
Laia is a Scholar, the lowest class in society and she’s a slave. She’s forced to make a desperate decision to save her brother — one that could cost everything, including her life. When she’s thrust into a situation where she doesn’t know who to trust and what to believe, one wrong decision could be her last. Seeing how her people are treated, she knows she has no choice but to make a change:
“The Emperor says that we are a free people who live under his benevolence. But that’s a joke. We can’t own property or attend schools, and even the mildest transgression results in enslavement.”
I loved seeing Laia’s journey towards becoming more confident. She’s so scared and convinced that she’s a coward that she doesn’t think that she will be able to save her brother. But somewhere along the way, she realizes that bravery isn’t being unafraid, it’s being able to do what you have to do even when you’re afraid (probably one of my favorite messages to read about in a book). However, there is a love-triangle included in the story as well, which is one of my least favorite tropes to read about.
There’s so much tension and suspense throughout the book. I couldn’t have put it down even if I wanted to, which I definitely did not. There’s a little bit of everything — history, magic, mythology, romance, suspense, intrigue, and politics. The writing itself made it feel as though I was right in the story, feeling the desert heat and forbidding scenery. The story ends on a little bit of a cliffhanger, but some of the loose ends are tied up and I’m so ready to start reading the next book!
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 11
Categories: Book Review