Title: An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1)
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction, Dystopia
Publication Date: April 28, 2015
Publisher: Razor Bill
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, its 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 itself.
As a Scholar, Laia of Serra has experienced oppression throughout her life by the rule of the Martial Empire. However, she, along with her brother Darin and grandparents, live quite peacefully as healers for their fellow Scholars. They are Scholars, yes, but unlike Scholar slaves, they still have their freedom. However, this all changes when their home is raided by the Martials during the night because of her brother’s “crimes.” Darin is captured and in result, Laia is forced to flee her home. In her journey to rescue her brother, she meets Elias.
Elias Veturius is a Mask— a soldier. Martials undergo a very difficult and deadly training before being granted a position as a Mask. They are trained to be vicious and merciless but Elias hates every second of it. All he wants is freedom— freedom from the Martials and his duty.
The two of them meet each other under less than ideal circumstances. They discover that there is more to each other’s worlds than their own desires.
Opinions and thoughts:
An Ember in the Ashes was released in 2015 and it has taken me this long to finally read it. I was intimidated by all the hype and did not pick it up until now. Still, I’m glad because I was extremely surprised by how I liked it. I thought it would be like any other fantasy/dystopian young adult book with very predictable plot and annoying main characters. BOIIIII, WAS I VERY WRONG! Not to mention that this was also very violent for a YA literature.
The story is told in a dual first person point of view, alternating between Laia and Elias. It was refreshing to have a female MC who is still strong-willed despite not being physically strong. Although starting out as a naive teenage girl, we definitely see Laia growing as a character. She has experienced hardship after hardship after hardship and as a result, she has not only grown smarter but also stronger as a person.
We also have Elias. Ah, Elias, Elias, Elias. He is, no doubt, my favorite character in this story. He is strong, as you would expect of a Mask, compassionate, and kind— oh boy, is he very kind. Since Masks are trained to be ruthless, his compassion to his fellow humans— not just Martials but all humans, including Scholars— made me ache for him. He has clearly suffered so much from his childhood since Mask training started when they were still children.
As I mentioned, this world is really violent, which I had not seen coming. I thought Sabaa would shy away from too much violence since this is YA after all. However, I am glad she didn’t. The violence is a huge part of this world and this story after all. There is mention of torture, oppression, child abuse, and rape. If you hadn’t read this yet and is planning to pick it up in the future, just remember those points before diving into it.
The side characters are also interesting. Some of them that are worth mentioning are Elias’s best friend Helene Aquilla, as well as his other friends, the Commandant, amd Laia’s friends newfound comrades. I’m sure we will see more of Darin as well in the future books ( I hope).
The only thing I didn’t like was the instalove or, in this case, the instant attraction between some of the characters, hence my rating being 1/2 point short of 5 points. Although it isn’t the usual love triangle where one character is torn to choose between two other characters. No, the relationships here are more complex than a spider web.
In conclusion, I immensely enjoyed this book and Sabaa Tahir is a great story-teller. I think it deserves all the hype it’s getting and more! READ IT IF YOU HAVEN’T YET!!!
About the Author
Sabaa Tahir grew up in California’s Mojave Desert at her family’s eighteen-room motel. There, she spent her time devouring fantasy novels, raiding her brother’s comic book stash and playing guitar badly. She began writing An Ember in the Ashes while working nights as a newspaper editor. She likes thunderous indie rock, garish socks and all things nerd. Sabaa currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.