An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1) by Sabaa Tahir
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Released: June 4th 2015
My Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads
What if you were the spark that could ignite a revolution?
For years Laia has lived in fear. Fear of the Empire, fear of the Martials, fear of truly living at all. Born as a Scholar, she’s never had much of a choice.
For Elias it’s the opposite. He has seen too much on his path to becoming a Mask, one of the Empire’s elite soldiers. With the Masks’ help the Empire has conquered a continent and enslaved thousands, all in the name of power.
When Laia’s brother is taken she must force herself to help the Resistance, the only people who have a chance of saving him. She must spy on the Commandant, ruthless overseer of Blackcliff Academy. Blackcliff is the training ground for Masks and the very place that Elias is planning to escape. If he succeeds, he will be named deserter. If found, the punishment will be death.
But once Laia and Elias meet, they will find that their destinies are intertwined and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.
In the ashes of a broken world one person can make a difference. One voice in the dark can be heard. The price of freedom is always high and this time that price might demand everything, even life itself. (from Goodreads)
I really enjoyed An Ember in the Ashes. It has been surrounded by hype over the past few months and while I didn't absolutely five-star love it the way many others did, it was definitely a great book, and so worth reading.
The book is split between two POVs, Laia's and Elias's. Initially I preferred Elias's chapters, but Laia's became equally interesting quite quickly and I actually enjoyed switching back and forth, which, let me tell you, is rare for me. I usually always find one POV more interesting and then dread going back to the other, but with An Ember in the Ashes, a few pages in and I was already liking both. So this book definitely gets points for that.
Laia's personality didn't really come through until she had been assigned her mission, but once that happened, I started to really like her. She was so dedicated to saving her brother, willing to endure so much cruelty and yet still thought of herself as a coward because she ran when her brother told her to. Please. If she were really a coward there's no way she would have stayed as the Commandment's slave. She was basically tortured and constantly threatened and always fearing for her life, and yet she stuck it out. Not many people could do that. She was a bit naive (she shouldn't have trusted the Resistance so easily so early on) but she learnt from her mistakes and I just really enjoyed reading about her and what she was planning to do next. I also liked her chapters because we got to see her interact with Izzi and Cook, two other slaves who she sort of formed friendships with and who I really liked (I am so curious as to who Cook really is though because she seemed to know Laia's parents and also refused to give her real name...).
Elias for me was a slightly more interesting character because of his relationship with his mother, the Commandant. She hated him. Hate isn't even a strong enough word, she despised him. We never really got to know why though I get the feeling it's something to do with his father who I'm assuming is bad/evil (though the Commandant was pretty evil herself, and seemed to be before Elias was born so who knows. Maybe she wasn't AS evil before he was born and Elias's father made her life that. Or maybe it was to do with the Nightbringer - how long had she been working with him? I want to know more!). But Elias definitely had a strange upbringing, he really only had his grandfather looking out for him, and coupled with his mother's various attempts on his life, I'm not surprised he was thinking of deserting. He didn't support the Empire and hated himself for going along with their rules. I am surprised he chose to stay based on the words on one man, but then again, that man was an immortal with weird creepy powers, so who knows. Elias's relationship with Helene was pretty interesting as well because they disagreed on fundamental principles (e.g. whether or not to free the slaves) but they had also known each other so long that despite that, they had this really strong connection. And because Elias hated the Empire and disagreed with the laws, and Helene was a strict rule-follower, it put a strain on their relationship that made things difficult as the book progressed.
The romantic aspects of this book were kind of odd, but not necessarily bad. Elias and Helene sort of had a thing (which got very complicated when the Trials started. Like, really complicated guys. I want to tell you so much but I won't, so just read the book), but then Elias and Laia were drawn to each other and then Laia also kind of liked this other guy, Keenan - it was all very mixed up and confusing, as most things are when it comes to these types of relationships. As much as I could sympathise with Helene (who I liked but didn't like at the same time because of her views and love of the Empire but then I felt sorry for her because of Marcus and oh my God Marcus, I loathed that disgusting guy), I did end up shipping Elias and Laia the most, because I just think they had a spark and were working towards similar goals, and I really enjoyed their scenes together.
Plot-wise, I enjoyed most things, though one bit that did confuse me was the introduction of a supernatural element that wasn't really explained. It was sort of randomly shoved in and explained away as "the stories are true" and I really would have liked to know more about some of these creatures and where they came from, as well as just generally find out why the world was the way it was and what made it like that (there wasn't much explanation of the whole Scholar/Military divide). I really wanted to know more about the Augurs too, and what they were really up to. I was also a little bit disappointed by the Resistance because I just think there was potential for more development and I found what was going on very obvious. But apart from that, I don't have much to complain about. Some of my favourite parts (probably because I am twisted) were the Trials, a few of which were just horrible, but interesting to read about because of the way Elias reacted. I also liked Laia's scenes with Spiro Teluman, though I wish they were a bit longer! Speaking of being longer, does this book seriously not have a sequel in the works? It NEEDS one! After the way things ended (I loved the ending, by the way), I have to know what happens next. There's so much left to explore! I think the author has said she would like a sequel, so if anyone important is reading this, I (and many other people, because hello have you seen the reviews of this book) would LOVE a sequel, make it happen please. I would be eternally grateful.
(EDIT: after writing this review it was announced that there will be a second book, so yaaaay!)
Overall, An Ember in the Ashes was a brilliant fantasy and I really, really want a second book. Recommended.