Series: An Ember in the Ashes #1
Published by Harper Voyager on April 2015
Genres: Dystopia, Fantasy, Young Adult
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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.
– A very compelling story in a harsh but interesting world. I just found the level of violence a bit high, especially towards children.
There has been a lot of hype surrounding the release of this book, so I was very excited to read it. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped to, even though the writing itself was excellent.
I’m not usually one to be shocked by the contents of books, but I found myself horrified at the way children are treated in Martial society, especially in the Blackcliff Academy. Very early on in the book, a young deserter, only ten years old, is whipped to death as punishment while the rest of the school looks on, cheering. Slaves are treated badly, punished for no reason, maimed and disfigured and raped by the older students, although thankfully none of those things are graphically depicted in the story. Elias’ revulsion and wish to change things is admirable, but it was hard to read about such an awful place.
The premise itself is interesting – a series of punishing trials held between the elite of the Academy to decide on the next Emperor. I was less interested in the Resistance movement and their plans, and really didn’t like how Keenan was suddenly set up as an extra love interest. There are overlapping love triangles in this story, and while I enjoyed the Helene/Elias/Laia parts, but I felt that Keenan was completely unnecessary. On top of that, the Resistance sends Laia, someone who has had no prior intelligence-gathering training, into the Academy to spy on the Commandant as a slave – when the previous slave was so traumatised that she ended up jumping off a cliff. Way to go, liberators.
So what did I like about this book? Well, the action scenes are really well executed (no pun intended). I was on the edge of my seat through the trials, and loved the relationship development between Elias and Helene. The masks that grow and attach to the skin are very creepy, but cool – I wish we heard more about them. Sabaa Tahir’s writing style is really very beautiful – first person present tense can be hard to pull off with multiple points of view but it’s really well done between Laia and Elias.
The end of An Ember in the Ashes is well set up for a sequel and despite my dislikes in this book, I will be happy to continue to see what happens next.