An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Fantasy/Dystopian, Young Adult
“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.”
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 initially bought this book because of the pretty cover (that and the title containing the word ember, which for some reason I love), and I started it with such high expectations a part of me was sure I’d be disappointed.
But I wasn’t. I loved it.
It isn’t the most original book ever, I’ll give you that; how many times have we read about “The Chosen One” and about teens changing the destiny of an entire nation?
However, this book has something. I think what I like the most is the dual point of view, which is very fitting because this book from only one person’s eyes wouldn’t be as great. Since we see the story told from both Elias’s and Laia’s eyes, we understand the characters and the plotlines better.
For example, as it says in the synopsis, Elias is the academy’s finest soldier. He belongs to Gens Veturia, one of the most important families in the Empire. Obviously people treat him better than Laia, who is a slave. So if we only saw things through Laia’s eyes, we wouldn’t understand a Mask’s thinking, and we would judge Helene and all the other Skulls harshly.
But anyway, this book has all the right things. A heroine who might not be the kickass girl we usually see and look up to in dystopian or in fantasy, but has a good heart and is, deep down, a fighter; well executed love triangles that don’t take away attention from the actual story; and that mysterious air that makes you sit through hundreds of pages, barely blinking, wondering, “What’s next?”
As I said, Laia is kickass in her own way; she’s brave and smart and kind. Tahir brought her to life really well and made me love her so much!
And Elias Veturius… At the beginning of the book, during Laia’s first chapter, I would have laughed at the thought of falling in love with a mask. But he’s amazing. He’s one of my favorite male characters of all time, up there with Aedion Ashryver and Peeta Mellark. I guarantee that if you read this book, you’ll grow to love Elias so much! When you finish, please go over to my Instagram and talk to me about him, I’ll be forever thankful haha.
The secondary characters are also pretty awesome and well developed. Helene is honestly my queen and I can’t wait to read more about her. Hopefully we’ll get chapters in her POV?
And all of their Skull friends are so cute! Okay, so they’re ruthless killers but I still love them all so much, I’ve cried and I’ve laughed and I’ve had so many feelings about them…
This is a brilliant debut. It’s been an amazing ride and it’s one of my favorite books now.
What I love most about this book is that it explores the topics of slavery and status brilliantly, and makes the reader wonder where the line is drawn when it comes to humanity.
Any dystopian fiction reader will like this book. I’m very excited to get the next book in the series, A Torch Against The Night, and even more to know that it’s going to have at least two more sequels after that!