An Ember in the Ashes
by Sabaa Tahir5 out of 5
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.
Laia and Elias lead very different lives, but fate intends to bind them together in a world that is slowly falling apart.
Ten hells, this is a good book!
I admit, it was a little slow to start with. Or, not exactly slow, as there's a lot of action and intrigue from the start - more that you try and grasp Laia's world, just to be thrown into Elias' very different life. But once you establish the basics, everything runs smoothly.
I really liked that the story doesn't bring together Laia and Elias until about half-way, which allows both plots to run alongside each other, both strong and exciting.
Even after their friendship starts to develop, it doesn't overcome their very independent ambitions, or any other aspect of their lives. It is so refreshing to read a story of this genre that doesn't devolve into doe-eyes and obsessed thoughts.
The other thing that stands out about this book, is that it is BRUTAL.
This may be classed as YA, but it is full of physical and psychological torture; threats of rape; violence; murders, etc.
Just as you get used to the level of pain and violence, something else arises (the third trial - absolutely crushing!).
The Martial Empire only recognises strength, and emotions are only there to be broken. It thinks nothing of killing its slaves; its own children; or even the soldiers that devote their life to the Empire.
I loved all the characters. Laia and Elias are flawed in their own way, and make excellent central characters, but the supporting cast are just as strong. Izzy, Marcus, Cook all shine when they get to be part of the story.
But my favourite is easily Helene. She's the only female Mask (loyal and brutal soldiers trained from a young age) in a generation, and has survived the brutal training. She is one of the guys, and has proven herself to be one of the best. She is loyal to the Empire, but isn't afraid to bend the rules and risk punishment, if she can help her friends. Helene is always the level-headed one that can be relied on to keep her friends in check and out of trouble. She is a true leader, and even though she accepts her emotions, she rarely lets them affect her.
So yeah, she's pretty awesome. I can't wait to see where her path leads in the next book, and how her fate has been sealed by Elias' choices.
I would definitely recommend checking this one out, and I can't wait to start A Torch Against The Night!