Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Published: Feb. 9, 2016
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.
From the Hardcover edition.
I remember seeing this book on the shelves at Barnes and Noble and looking it up on GR. It seemed really cool, but at the time I was too busy to go and read it. Now that I have I’m teetering on the edge of really, really enjoying it and completely loving it. There were such amazing things in this novel that I was really intrigued with, but at the same time there were a few things that kind of fell short for me.
What I liked:
Laia had a quite, and rather sudden, character arch in this novel. It was really interesting to see her grow from where she started at the beginning. She’s constantly feeling like she was living in her mother and father’s shadow. Laia never really thought that she had anything admirable about her, but at the end of the novel she finds the little bit of her mother that burns brightly inside her. It was really interesting to see.
Elias was even more interesting. He’s constantly battling the world he’s been raised in. He wants to be free of the harsh and violent nature of the Martials. He’s fighting with a life long friend, Helene, constantly because their views differentiate so widely. For instance, Laia is a Scholar who are treated as slaves and second class citizens. When Elias comes to her aid, he and Helene constantly have quibbles about why he cares for her. To him, the Scholars are people. To Helene the Scholars are the conquered. This dynamic that Elias is constantly fighting against, is something that I was rooting for.
With these two converging paths, the plot thickens. Elias and Laia have constant run ins with each other and while they, by themselves as Elias and Laia, have an instant connection–they’re holding hella secrets from each other. For one Laia is actively working with the Resistance spying on one of the most powerful and ruthless people in the Martial hierarchy. Elias thinks she’s this innocent slave girl, but she’s like “haha actually I’m trying to overthrow our government”. There’s also a sudden change in the story where the supernatural and magic come into play, turning this more into a sort of fantasy novel. It kind of came out of left field, but I’m digging it. I want to see where it grows.
What I kinda didn’t like:
Is it insta-love? Kind of… yeah it’s pretty much insta love with Elias and Laia. Which… I mean I do ship it, but I wish it wasn’t as… insta-lovey. Because on top of that we’ve got hella love triangles. Both Elias and Laia have love triangles. It’s funny, really. I’m supposed to feel really bad for how things end up for Helene and Elias, but it was kind of foreshadowed from the beginning if I’m being completely honest. Laia and Keenan also have this kind of insta-love thing going on, but they connect deeper than Elias and Laia does. I still ship it though. I just didn’t really like the execution.
Another thing that kind of irked me was when I started to think about what I remember from the blurb for An Ember in the Ashes. It’s supposed to be set in an ancient Rome environment right? I was totally expecting gladiator like armor and weaponry, togas… hella togas, and some of that amazing Roman architecture. I kind of got more of a…more medieval feel rather than Rome. Especially with the clothing. The Commandant wearing armor and what not is fine, but I would think that the houses would wear togas.
I really liked the book. I thought it was entertaining. It had a lot of heart wrenching moments and it had a lot of times where, if you wanted to go deep into it, there were bits about humanity and all that. A lot of things kind of happened without the needed build-up, but I was really invested in how Laia and Elias would get out of the situation that I didn’t really pay attention to it. Again, character driven reader rather than plot. I’m probably going to hop onto the sequel because I need to know answers to some questions, but I’m definitely teetering on the fence.