Author: Sabaa Tahir
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Fiction, Dystopian
Devoured… in the evenings while… staying up late and way past my bedtime.
Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Purchase your copy here.
Review: 5 out of 5 Stars
Summary (from Goodreads): 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.
Review: I loved this book! It will keep you up at night because you will not want to put it down. I have not read a book this engrossing since The Hunger Games.
An Ember in the Ashes is set in a dystopian fantasy world in which a Martial elite rules an empire through fear and brutality. The story is told through two different characters: Laia, a slave girl who will risk everything to save her captive brother, and Elias, a young soldier raised to become a Martial but whose only desire is to be free from the destiny of violence awaiting him. The interlacing narratives explore themes such as oppression, suffering, the meaning of freedom and its cost.
Tahir’s society in An Ember in the Ashes is poisoned by slavery and full of violence. The school’s commandant (Elias’s estranged mother and Laia’s master) is likely to gouge out the eye of a child as payment for another slave’s offense. In one scene, the commandant burns her initial into Laia’s chest, marking Laia as her own property. Tahir does not shy away from blood, violence, or gore in this novel, so readers beware.
What I appreciated about this book, particularly as a fan of Star Wars and Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars, is that Tahir is careful to show that the members of the Empire are also victims. Students are whipped and subjected through psychological terror. An elite group of Martials known as Masks wear silver masks that fuse and bond with their faces, erasing their original identity and forging a new one devoted to the Empire.While the repetition of violence runs the risk of inuring readers to it, An Ember in the Ashes is a richer book for showing that none of its characters are truly free or safe.
The overall setting of An Ember in the Ashes echoes of ancient Rome. But what sets this fantasy world apart is the introduction of middle-eastern influences: the scent of spices, the date and apricot trees, the mirror embroideries in the women’s skirts, the glass lanterns, the lattice screens. In a genre where the aesthetic is often shaped by medieval Europe and countryside Britain, the result is a strikingly original and visually memorable fantasy landscape. Between this and Rebel of the Sands, I am loving all of the fantasy-epic journeys into middle eastern influenced landscapes.
Romance weaves throughout the plot, but it does not drive the story line. Two connected love triangles are in play and I am sure they will be further explored in A Torch Against the Night. There is not much to say about the romance as all we see in this novel is the groundwork that will be further explored, but I already have my favorite couple that I am rooting for and I am excited to see where their journey takes us.
Pick this book up ASAP and start reading it. You will not regret it.