Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Genre: YA Fantasy
Number of Pages: 443
My Rating: 5 stars
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.
I have no idea why this book took me so long to read after I started, but I ended up LOVING it. I was a little wary when I heard that it was fantasy, as I’m still trying to warm up to the YA fantasy genre. However, when the glowing reviews just kept rolling in, I knew that I had to get my hands on this book. Now I’m here to add a glowing review of my own.
Right away, I want to say that if you’re sensitive to topics like sexual abuse, please proceed with caution with this book. An Ember in the Ashes is set in a Rome-like society, and it’s brutal. Rape is indeed mentioned quite a few times throughout. Sabaa Tahir doesn’t try and sugar coat any of the brutality in this book. Death and violence aren’t portrayed as anything other than what they are: savagery. I loved that Sabaa didn’t shy away from writing in some of the really unsavory elements of her world. While some of it was quite difficult to read, I thought that these elements added to the story.
Both Elias and Laia were wonderful, complex characters. I will admit to looking forward to reading Elias’ POV a LITTLE more than Laia’s, but I think that’s simply because I was loving all of the action and adventure that came with being in Elias’ head. His story and internal struggle was beautiful. He was truly caught between doing what he wanted to do, and what he needed to do at the time. Unlike the soldiers around him, he has a conscience that really weighs on him. Though he was deadly in a fight, he still managed to have a gentle soul. Laia’s character was a wonderful match for Elias’. Laia was soft and sweet, but also smart and strong, not to mention brave and fiercely loyal to those she loves. It was really refreshing to see a female character that was able to fend for herself most of the time, but still was able to admit when she needed help from others. It seems as if a lot of YA heroines fall on one extreme end of the self reliance spectrum or the other.
In addition to the romance, there was some great female friendship depicted in this book. Laia and Izzi had a really great friendship, even thought they obviously weren’t in the best circumstances. It was nice to see Laia help Izzi come out of her shell a little bit. Their loyalty to each other was admirable.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone that enjoys fantasy, or even someone who is just looking to get into fantasy. Five out of five stars.