Published April 2015
An Ember in the Ashes #1
An Ember in the Ashes is a book that I have wanted to read for a while, but I just never got around to it. My local Barnes and Noble never had the hardback copy in stock, and it wasn’t a book that I felt I needed to go out of my way to order online. I have a lot of other unread YA novels at home, so it never seemed like a priority.
Then two weeks ago, B&N restocked their hardcovers, which I can only imagine was in anticipation of the sequel coming out at the end of the month, and I decided it was time to bring this beauty home with me. After I posted a picture of it on my Instagram and the onslaught of “read this book ASAP” and “I absolutely loved this book”, I knew it was time. Hopefully this would be the book to draw me out of my mini reading slump.
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.
This book was way more brutal than I expected it to be. I have read some reviews that stated that the violence was a little off-putting and unnecessary, but I thought it was, morbidly, perfect. The initial killings in the first chapter set the tone for the book: this violent, high stakes tone. That everything is important, that this is serious, that it’s time to pay attention because people are going to die, especially the innocent. And with that knowledge my heart beat increased, my palms started sweating, and I read onward.
The book is told from two first person perspectives: Elias, and Laia. while I was immediately smitten with Elias’ story, his voice, and the characters the reader interacts with from his parts of the book, it took me more than half of the novel to develop even a fondness for Laia. I thought she was kind of boring and too ordinary to be interesting. However, with that being said, she does go through a pretty great character development throughout the course of the novel. She starts out as the scared little girl, un-confident, and uninteresting. She thought of herself as only living in the shadows of her other family members, who were all AMAZING at everything they did, and the moment that she realizes she is her own person, was the moment I started liking her.
Don’t even get me started on Elias. I loved him. And good lord, I loved Helene. I think their relationship was so relatable to most teenagers/young adults (you know, apart from the having to kill each other thing), and I found their interactions to be addicting. I legitimately hope that there will be more Helene time in future books, because she is a shining star.
The world building is phenomenal. The setting has Middle Eastern vibes, though the politics resembles Classic Rome. The blend of magic and paranormal creatures/powers balanced almost perfectly with the brutality of it all. And the way that Tahir tied both Elias and Laia’s story lines together (with the brilliance of the Augurs) left me breathless when I closed the book.
Lastly, I want to say that while there was a tad bit of romance sprinkled throughout An Ember in the Ashes, it was not distracting, nor did it take away from the big picture. Quite the contrary actually, I found myself able to focus on the character’s separate plot lines, rather than just waiting for them to converge randomly.
I thought that when I finished this book, I was going to give it a solid 4 star rating. My only complaint really with the story was my lack of initial interest in Laia, and the two villain like monologues toward the end of the novel. (I have a hard time with antagonists just coming out and explaining their shitty behavior for no reason.) But once I put this book back on my shelf, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
AEITA consumed my thoughts for a solid three days, and I cannot imagine having read this book last year when it debuted and having to wait until August 30th for the sequel. That ending was perfect, and I am super excited to get to A Torch Against the Night, and see where our two unlikely heroes head next.