An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Published: February 9th 2016 by Razorbill (originally published April 28th 2015)
Rating: 4.5 out of 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.
“You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”
I devoured this book in only one day, I just couldn’t put it down! I loved the setting, plot, characters, and just about everything in this book. There was so much action and twists that you never knew who you could trust or who was telling you the truth. This story was told in two points of view; Laia a Scholar who is viewed less than human, and Elias who is a mask for the Empire who conquered the Scholars. It was great going through the story by two completely different people, who didn’t really interact with each other much until nearly the end.
“I don’t need to believe in the supernatural, not when there’s worse that roams the night.”
At first, I did not really like Laia. I thought she was horrible for cracking under the pressure and telling the mask what he wanted. She already had a healthy dose of fear for the assassins of the Empire, so she should have realized that the mask would have never let her grandparents live. But, as it turns out this is a really big defining moment in Laia’s life, and she uses it to find her courage and to grow as a character. I believe her defining moment, where she truly became herself was when she decided to stop letting people decide what she needed to and do it for herself. For majority of the novel, Laia’s inner voice was that of her brother telling her to be brave and to do it for him or he will die in prison. That all changed when she realized the people who said would help her wasn’t really going to help her, and only said that to appease her and members of the group. After that, you really see a whole new side of Laia that I wished was there a lot sooner, but I understand she had to go through some hardships to get there. I can’t wait to see her new self confident self in the next installment!
“Once, I’d have wanted that. I’d have wanted someone to tell me what to do, to fix everything. Once, I’d have wanted to be saved.”
Elias, on the other hand, was a character I immediately fell in love with! Of course, he was the only soldier out of 3,000 that thought what they were doing was wrong. He and three other students are chosen for the trials to become the next emperor of the empire. At each and every trial, he is constantly questioning his morals and beliefs and how this was going to enable him to be free from everything. If it wasn’t for Helene and Laia, Elias might not have made it as far as he did.
“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.”
Okay, so that is my opinion on the two main characters. Now lets talk about the love square, because a love triangle is just not enough. On one side we have Helene and Elias, on the other we have Keenan and Laia, and in between we have Elias and Laia. I guess it’s more of a line and the two center go back and forth between their love interests.
I don’t think I can pick a couple I like more. I liked all the scenes between Keenan and Laia, Laia and Elias, and Elias and Helene. I wish the author wrote more flaws for Keenan and Helene so that I can at least like Laia and Elias a little bit more!
“You will be chained to the darkness within yourself as surely as if chained to the walls of a prison cell.”
If you like a book with violence, then this is definitely the book for you. Basically from the get go there is some type of violence, you can’t go a few chapters without some form of it. You have the violence between all the soldiers and their training. You have the violence from the trials. You have the violence against the Scholars, and since most of them are enslaved you see first hand how they are treated. Everything that Laia is put through because she is the Commandments slave is just awful. I do not think I could put up with what Laia did to help her brother when everyone else thought she was going to fail in the first place.
“All evil here. Monsters. Little monsters and then big ones.”
Just like any dominating kingdom, you have the empire and the resistance group. You think that you would know exactly who to trust and not, but that isn’t precisely the case in this novel. Without trying to give too much away, let’s just say that there are groups within groups and everyone has different agendas. The way Tahir unfolds everything at the end is just great, especially since everything is so complex!
“Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after. Such moments are tests of courage, of strength.”
If you haven’t picked up this book yet, you should go to the bookstore tomorrow and grab it! I don’t say that often about a book, but this is one I think almost everyone who loves fantasy should read!