Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
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.
With AN EMBER IN THE ASHES author, Sabaa Tahir creates an addicting story that is nearly unputdownable. Combining fantasy with a Roman inspired world, the fates of two young people from opposing sides are about to find their lives entwined in an epic way.
The world building is vivid and has an almost cinematic feel to it at times. I could feel the grit of Blackcliff's training arena and the sting of the backlashes delivered by the Commandant. The training sequences and Trial’s competition had my heart pounding with their intensity.
There is also a unique element of fantasy used in AN EMBER IN THE ASHES. Magical masks that bond with its wearer and mysterious Augerurs speaking prophecy. Supernatural creatures out of legend also find a place within the story. Soul-hungry ghuls and elemental efrits. I loved how Tahir combined the supernatural with an almost dystopian world, creating something unique and original.
"Efrit, efrit of the wind, kill him with a star-steel pin.
Efrit, efrit of the sea, light a fire to make him flee.
Efrit, efrit of the sand, a song is more than he can stand.”
Told from alternating perspective of Elias and Laia, Soldier and Spy, AN EMBER IN THE ASHES cleverly brings these two together, crossing one another's paths, as both risk death to escape their fates. Elias feelings are so palpable to the reader. You can feel his anger, shame and frustration as a soldier to an Empire's rule he despises. An empire he is training to possible reign over as its newest leader. There is just something so appealing about a strong warrior hero, one who is fighting a dark, internal battle within. I just can't resist them in a story, and Elias brought out the feels, representing the conflicted hero that I love to read about.
“You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Venturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”
Laia’s struggle in AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is admirable and by the end of the story she is very much a heroine. She shows remarkable resilience and determination as she is sent undercover as a slave to spy on the ruling house of the Martial in order to help rescue her brother. There she encounters the ruthless Commandant whose cruelty is notorious. I was worried about connecting to Laia as her voice took me awhile to warm up to. At first she seems timid and weak, but it soon becomes clear that she will do whatever it takes to out maneuver the Commandant. As the story progressed, I could not help but respect her. At first she is a Scholar, then a rebel and last she is forced to be a slave, at heart though she is a heroine.
“Defiance flashes across her face as she holds my gaze, and for a second, I see my own desire for freedom mirrored, intensified in her eyes.”
Oh, and there is swoon for sure. I knew in my heart these two are meant to be together, but there are other possible romantic interests for Elias and Laia that will keep the reader guessing. Elias best friend Helen, also a Mask, is completely kick-ass and I almost changed my mind and wanted them to be together. Tahir weaves romantic prose as well as she can write brutal intrigue and action sequences. I couldn’t read fast enough to find out if Elias and Laia end up together. If you haven’t already, you’ll just have to read AN EMBER IN THE ASHES to find out.
“Elias is here, before me, warm and beautiful and broken. He’s a Martial. A Mask. But not here. Not tonight… Here, now, he is just Elias and I am just Laia, and we are, both of us, drowning.”
AN EMBER IN THE ASHES delivered the story I wanted, one where its brutal world is balanced by hope, and an unlikely alliances can change their very destiny. Magic, the supernatural, and a vivid setting made for a rich world to escape to. Elias and Laia are two unforgettable characters. This story is complex, and I believe this first book is just the beginning of something fantastic. I want more and with its ending, I’m anxiously waiting for my next adventure!
My Rating: 5 Stars. I loved it!