Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Series: An Ember in the Ashes, #1
Release Date: February 11th 2016
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.
– Blurb courtesy of goodreads.com
My Thoughts On…
Laia’s life is not perfect, but it is better than most of the Scholars, until the night her brother is discovered as a member of the Resistance and the Masks are sent to their home. Laia manages to escape, to run, but not before her grandparents are killed and her brother is taken away by the Martial’s. She flees to the catacombs where she knows the Resistance can be found, hoping for someone who can help her save her brother from the prisons where he has undoubtedly been taken.
But Laia’s journey is not easy, despite finding the Resistance and despite outing herself as the daughter of their once great leader’s Laia is forced to prove herself worthy before Mazen will risk his men saving her brother. She is put in the home of the Commander as a slave and forced to spy on her, to feed secrets back to the Resistance. But Laia is no spy, she risks her life spying on the woman who has made a name for destroying the slaves in her home.
Despite being a Mask about to graduate Blackcliff after years of brutal training Elias is planning to escape. He has everything planned and everything he will need hidden in a secret passage no one but him knows. But then the Augur’s make the announcement that everyone has been waiting for for centuries; a new Emperor will be chosen. The four competitors; Elias, Helene, Marcus and Zak are forced to undergo Trials, brutal tests that will determine who will be the next ruler of the Empire.
Elias’s plans to escape are put on hold when the Augurs mention his true path to freedom is through the Trails, but the harder they get the more Elias starts to doubt what it is he is fighting for. Meanwhile Laia takes not only her own life in her hands but also her friends spying on the Commander she starts to question what the Resistance is saying about her brother.
Laia is not a strong character at first. As a free-Scholar she has not known the hardships the slaves have to face, and although her life was not perfect it was hers. Until her brother is taken. Laia ran and from that moment she suffered the guilt of letting Darin fight of the Masks on his own, of letting them take him without a fight despite knowing it would have caused her death. It’s that guilt that drives her forwards; that leads her to the Resistance and then to the Commander’s home as a spy.
However Laia doesn’t know the first thing about spying, and life in the Commander’s home is hard and cruel. She is beaten for even the slightest mistake and knows if she were to be found as a spy she would be tortured and killed. She trusts the Resistance because of who her mother was but she needs them to rescue her brother before it is too late and she knows time is running out for Darin.
Elias has never felt like a real Mask, unlike the rest of his friends his silver mask has not yet fully formed to his skin and in his mind he rejects the ideals that have been forced on him. Despite that Elias is still a good soldier; he is strong, fast, and brutal when needs be but he seems to have more of a conscience than his fellow Masks. He feels guilt when he sees the way Laia and the slaves are being treated. Elias knows the Empire needs to chance but in spite of undergoing the Trials he has no desire to be the Emperor. All he wants is to escape and sees the Trials as the best way to achieve that goal.
There is the beginning of a love square in this book, and in spite of my dislike of love triangles I didn’t mind this one. Elias and Helene have been brothers-in-arms and best friends since the moment they met, but Helene’s feelings for Elias start to affect their close relationship, especially when Elias starts noticing Laia. Meanwhile Laia sees a lot of both Elias and Keenan, her handler with the Resistance, both men appeal to a different side of her but as a Mask Laia does not trust Elias, and as part of the Resistance she suspects is not telling her the whole truth she can’t fully trust Keenan either.
I really loved the dynamic between Elias and Helene; they have years of friendship and development already there to back-up their feelings towards one another. There wasn’t enough interaction between Laia and Keenan for me to have any impression of their relationship whatsoever. I feel like the story and Laia’s character development would have progressed the same without him.
The world has a very Roman Empire feel to it and I loved the way everything was set up; the history of the Martial empire and the reasons the trial has been set up in the first place. We didn’t receive all the information in one go, there were parts of the back story that were only revealed as you went deeper into the story, but there was a lot of attention paid to detail. I felt the main back story in An Ember in the Ashes was the Martial’s history; why they launched war against the Scholar’s and enslaved them, their culture and their history. There was one thing that I didn’t feel was as well developed was the magic. It is hinted at and referenced, and we saw a lot of the darker creatures, but it seemed almost like they were dropped in the story without much of an explanation behind how the magic in An Ember in the Ashes worked.
I really enjoyed this book, and I’m glad I managed to get my hands on an ARC of A Torch against the Night so I can dive straight into book two of what is becoming an amazing series. The journey both Elias and Laia took isn’t even close to over and I’m interested to see, especially after the ending and everything that happened in the last few chapters of this book, what the story holds for them next.
What did you think of An Ember in the Ashes? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.