An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Published by Razorbill on April 28, 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction, Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 446 Format: Hardcover Source: Trade
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.
Sometimes there are just too many amazing fantasy books out in the world. It took me more than a year to finally pick up An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir and thankfully I was not disappointed. Laia and Elias’ story is filled with complex characters, emotional upheaval, and tyrannical rule, with a healthy dose of magic and mysticism tossed in which grabs the reader’s attention and keeps them enthralled until the very last page.
Multiple POVs need to be done right and both Laia and Elias stood out on their own. Laia has lost so much but still pushes forward striving to save her brother despite all of her fears and misgivings. On the other hand Elias just wants to be free of the Empire’s heavy burden of violence, caring so deeply for those he calls friend. Even Helene has a massive role in the story and the rest of the side characters especially the Commandant are just as nuanced as the main players.
Having studied quite a lot of Roman history in college, I’ve always really enjoyed settings inspired by it. The Martial Empire is a pretty similar interpretation with intense brutality, slavery, and a society based on military might. What made this story more though was legends being brought to life. Take for instance the Augurs, the empire’s holy men, who can read minds and see glimpses of the future, or efrits that thrive on fear. The fantastical elements truly make this story stand out.
From the first page this book is action packed, filled with high stakes moments and trials. There’s a great deal of loss, learning to survive, and needing to confront the hard truths in this difficult world. Fear rises at every turn and I couldn’t read fast enough. Tahir handles it all exquisitely, causing the reader an intense journey of emotional turmoil that never seems to let up. My heart was constantly in my throat.
Overall I was extremely thrilled with Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes. This book had so much going for it and in my eyes didn’t falter. With a compelling narrative and characters that are easy to get behind, this story truly captured my heart and soul. I’m dying to pick up A Torch Against the Night as soon as possible and definitely recommend this to all my fantasy lovers out there.
So have you read An Ember in the Ashes? Do you have a favorite character? Are you a fan of books inspired by real life cultures? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments below!