An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Series: An Ember in the Ashes #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Page Length: 443 pages
Publication Date: April 28th, 2015
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 choice will change the fate of the Empire itself.
Action-packed, impassioned, and completely striking, An Ember in the Ashes by author Sabaa Tahir is an impressive debut - a well-constructed story guaranteed to enrapture.
After reading contemporary after contemporary, I found myself in a bit of what we like to call a "reading slump." The books I attempted in hopes of remedying my bad case of "The Slump" all seemed dull and stale. There was nothing new or exciting to help integrate myself back into my reading routine. Reading began to feel more forced than leisurely.
I'm happy to say An Ember in the Ashes was THE BOOK to put me right back on the reading track. Although I had my doubts as to whether or not Sabaa Tahir's highly anticipated debut would actually live up to its build up, I'm pleased to say all expectations were met in my mind. Sabaa Tahir created a world full of intrigue and conflict between the Scholars and the Martials. She truly "hit the ground running," in the sense that from page one until the very end, her words, her story, held my full, undivided attention. Her narrative was exciting to say the least, keeping me on the edge of my seat with the book gripped firmly in both hands.
The story is told in dual narration. Laia, one of two main characters, is a Scholar girl without any family but her brother, Darin, to call her own. One night during a Martial raid, Darin is violently arrested and dragged off to his unbeknownst doom, thus beginning Laia's quest to free him. What I absolutely loved about Laia was not necessarily her braveness or heroism, but rather her (at first) lack of these admirable traits. When Darin is first taken away, Laia shies away from the situation, fleeing the scene. She listens to her fears and allows them to dictate her actions - which makes her respectfully real. We've all read about the seemingly fearless, brave, heroic, stoic protagonist who is just BORN a natural leader and is able to instantly stand up in the face of peril. Laia, on the other hand, is just a girl. She is just a teenage girl. And not all teenage girls are born heroes. Rather, they are living and learning along their way: learning to be a little more brave and a lot more selfless. It was truly a privilege to read about Laia's internal journey as she grew as a character, developing from that shy, timid, fearful girl, and then slowly blossoming into a fiery, lionhearted woman - one not at all to be reckoned with.
Our other main character, Elias, is a Martial soldier and the son of the steely-eyed, coldblooded Commandant. I indulged in Elias's chapters, relishing in the way he held himself and sympathizing with his unfortunate predicament. He is truly an ember in the ashes and as the Augurs prophesied, one who will spark and burn. And although I am usually not a fan of dual narratives, the balance between Laia and Elias's words perfectly complimented the other. I was eager to see how these two stories, one, of a Scholar girl, and the other, of a Martial boy, would finally intertwine, joining together as one.
An Ember in the Ashes was an unforgettable debut that will forever be burned into my memory. Many questions were left unanswered, background information left untold, and certain plot lines left off to be continued. And so, I eagerly await book two and beyond.