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.
“Good books don’t give up all their secrets at once.”
I feel as if this is the case with An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. It begins with two very different characters, each a victim of dire circumstances, who come to find strengths they’ve never known before. They turn their backs on who they’ve been told they are and become something unexpected.
I found myself just as frustrated as Laia and Elias as they struggled to find freedom. Their journeys are peppered with riddles and mixed messages, and it’s only as the story comes to a head that all the answers begin to unfold. I think that’s what makes this story so good: they persevere and trust in their instincts, and as a result, they figure out who they’re meant to be.
The character growth is all I could hope for as a reader. Not even the minor characters remain stagnant, each affected and changed by the events that transpire.
The only character that didn’t convince me was Keenan. He seemed like an afterthought and the attraction between him and Laia felt forced. It was unnecessary except to form some kind of lopsided love triangle between Laia, Keenan, and Elias. I felt that the author was trying to make Keenan more than he needed to be – but who knows, maybe his role will make more sense in the sequels.
On the other hand, I enjoyed the tension between Elias and Helene: it was real and had a solid basis in their enduring friendship. The complexity between them was intense, and throwing Laia into the mix to create another little triangle of sexual tension made things interesting.
The relationships between these characters plays an essential role in their actions. They affect each other, pushing each other beyond what they once thought was their limit. It’s awesome and creates unexpected outcomes.
An Ember in the Ashes is well written, creating a vivid picture of tyranny, rebellion, betrayals, and hard truths. Sabaa Tahir has become one of my must-read authors.
Rating: 4/5 Stars