Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Series: An Ember in the Ashes #1
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Published: April 28th, 2015 (Razorbill)
Synopsis: 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.
“The field of battle is my temple.
The swordpoint is my priest.
The dance of death is my prayer.
The killing blow is my release.”
Laia is a Scholar, the class of people that the Martial Empire subjugated and enslaved, and she and her family live a life of poverty in the Empire’s shadow. When her brother is arrested for treason and taken away by the Masks (the Empire’s soldiers), Laia finds herself turning to the Resistance for help – help which they agree to give her on one condition – she must infiltrate Blackcliff Academy and spy on the ruthless Commandant. And it is at Blackcliff that she crosses paths with Elias Veturius, the Commandant’s son, reputed as the Academy’s finest soldier, but secretly, he grows ever more disillusioned with the life of a soldier he has trained for, and desires freedom from the regime.
The setting is undoubtedly the best part of this series. I absolutely loved the Ancient Rome inspired world and despite the minimal time spent on explanations about how the society works, it was surprisingly easy to follow along and understand. This book is narrated from both Elias and Laia’s POVs, and the drastically different perspectives added a certain element to the atmosphere of the story.
When it comes to the characters, Laia is definitely one of the most unique heroines I’ve come across in YA in that she is perfectly ordinary – no special powers, no outrageous talents, just a young girl making her way in a terrifying world and everything about her character’s portrayal and reactions is perfectly natural. Elias is struggling with a choice for most of this book. He wants nothing more than to desert his position in the Masks and leave the violent life he is leading behind, but is once more trapped by the Trials when he is told that this is the way to free himself from the Empire. Only, the Trials themselves are so brutal, that he might find himself becoming exactly what he feared just to survive them. Helene is the character I’m most curious about though – it would be so amazing to have POV chapters for her! From what has been shown of her so far, Helene is very loyal, if overly adherent to the rules, which can get a little grating, but when it comes down to a difficult choice, she makes the right one.
This review has taken far longer than it should, owing to an ill timed reading slump that has not yet completely gone away, and this isn’t the most fast paced of books either, atleast initially, which does not help. However, this was a re-read for me, so a little speed reading didn’t hurt. It is only when Laia starts spying on the Commandant that things start to get a lot more interesting, and that along with Elias’s Trials, really pick up the pace of the story. Overall, this is a great start to a promising series and I would definitely recommend it!
Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
Other reviews in this series:
Book 3: A Reaper At the Gates