***mild spoilers may follow***
Rating: 5 stars
Pub date: 28 April 2015
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Format: hardcover, personal copy
Status: Book one of An Ember in the Ashes series
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 thought I had reviewed An Ember in the Ashes last year after I read it, but apparently I didn’t. Ah, well. I will now after a re-read! I have to say, I loved An Ember in the Ashes as much the second time as I did the first. Maybe a smidge more knowing that there for certain is a sequel! Even better that I have jumped straight into A Torch Against the Night thanks to Mary letting me borrow her copy! (Look for that review soon too!)
Once again, I was immediately hooked into the fantastical Ancient Rome type setting. Ancient Rome is one of my favourite time periods to study. I also enjoyed the military aspect of Elias. As an Army wife, there’s a fine line between just enough military influence, and can this military crap end already. Sabaa Tahir manages to weave the military training and life in a great balance with Laia’s side of the tale.
Sabaa Tahir proves she’s going to be a master of world building for this series. She has created an entire new world, but masterfully draws on one of the most influential times. She also pulls from mythology, but spins it to something entirely new. She introduces aspects of the mythology through children’s rhymes remembered by the characters as young adults. It’s fascinating to see the characters realise something they’ve always considered children’s stories to come to life before their eyes. There’s a few desert scenes which ups the ante on survival struggles.
I really enjoyed the presentation of the Trials in the book. I won’t go into too much detail on what is involved in the Trials as they are obviously a giant part of the story. They really make you stop and think about what you would do in a situation like that. Let’s just say could you kill your best friend if your life depended on it? Speaking of best friend, Helene, Elias’s best friend is easily my favourite character. I love a strong heroine who doesn’t need to depend on a guy to come to her aid and actually gets a little PO’d when Elias tries to help when she’s capable of handling herself. XX chromosome does not equal an incapability to kick some butt!
It was very interesting to have alternating point of views, but if you don’t pay close enough attention to chapter breaks, you might lose who is who for a moment! I think it would have helped a bit if the different POV were in different colours like the Legend trilogy. And on the note of alternating POV, I would love to see more Helene in A Torch Against the Night. Not sure how that will play out due to the nature of the ending of An Ember in the Ashes, but a girl can hope! Helene is definitely a secondary character in need of a promotion!
Another credit to Sabaa Tahir’s world building is in her writing style. She manages to write quite vividly without overloading the reader in tedious details (I’m looking at you, Tolkien). This writing style really helps keep the action glowing quickly and the reader engaged. I will admit that Elias’s chapters are a bit faster paced and better than Laia’s chapters. I think it is a good balance though. It helps with the ebb and flow of the story. It can’t all be high otherwise the story would have nowhere to go.
For me, the romance stayed on the border of problematic. While it will be interesting to see where things go in A Torch Against the Night, I could have used a bit less in the romantic drama department. I guess with such a focus on military, fighting, and gore, the romance just seemed a bit misplaced at times. Also, love triangles. Ugh. Or squares or whatever shape this one might be.
Last year, before it released, An Ember in the Ashes was SURROUNDED by massive hype. Especially with the rumour of being a potential standalone, but ending leaving the reader wanting MORE. There was a strong push for pre-orders and early purchasing to help draw attention to the desire of another book. Normally I see a hyped book and I flee in the other direction. I’m often the black sheep when it comes to hyped books or it being hyped adds far too much pressure to enjoy the book. I decided to pick up a (signed!) copy at Parnassus Books when I was down for the Sarah J Maas signing. It was a fabulous decision. Not only did I love it, a sequel was also announced which helped the ending.
I highly recommend An Ember in the Ashes. Few books, in my opinion, deserve the hype, but An Ember in the Ashes is one of those few. It is full of complex issues and very fleshed out characters. Sabaa Tahir is a powerful wordsmith and should stay on your radar for future amazing books!
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