Publisher: Penguin Group, Random House on April 28, 2015
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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 the 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 never feared the night, not even as a child, but Blackcliff’s night is different, heavy with a silence that makes you look over your shoulder, a silence that feels like a living thing.”
SEQUEL? Sequel. Need sequel. Tell me there’s a sequel. There’s always something captivating about a book that refuses to let your fingers pry itself from its pages. An Ember in the Ashes is like that, with a little hint of something… more. Again, we come across a hybrid novel of fantasy and dystopia, and again, it works. Though the novel presents a world that is left slightly unanswered, Tahir gives readers an enticing spark of a story with characters you just can’t leave behind.
Laia and the remaining members of her family live under the Martial Empire. It’s tyranny at its finest, and for Laia and the rest of the oppressed Scholar people, it’s useless to fight back. But when her brother is taken away by the Empire’s soldiers, all Laia has left is to fight — even if it means infiltrating the Empire’s most dangerous walls: Blackcliff Academy.
For Elias, Blackcliff Academy’s walls breed nothing but heartless, brutal weapons for the Empire. He knows this because he’s one of the academy’s top soldiers, trained to enforce the Empire’s cruelty on command. But as promising as his future is in Blackcliff, what Elias desires is far more dangerous: freedom.
When Laia and Elias cross paths at Blackcliff, an unlikely connection between the two is formed — both are slaves to the Empire’s wrath, both struggle to conform to Blackcliff’s cold commands. As Laia and Elias grapple with the choices they must make, they soon realize their sufferings are merely a plot point to an even darker, stronger enemy than the Empire.
While An Ember in the Ashes certainly takes aspects of ancient Rome’s political intrigue and corruption, much of the world Tahir has built remains largely unknown. Laia and Elias spend the majority of the book behind Blackcliff’s walls, which only leaves readers craving for more of a world of jinns, Augurs, and other magical things. There is a mild understanding of the Empire’s vast lands and the Martial-Scholar dispute; however, even the bit of magic revealed is unexplored. In fact, it is the characters that build this world for us — for them, and us, this world is harsh and ugly and merciless. Readers are trapped within the confines of Blackcliff, just as Laia and Elias are subjugated to its control. Tahir skillfully crafts this academy-prison hold with tight writing and compelling action, which really makes up for all the wickedness and mysteries surrounding the world.
The action is non-stop in this book, but I’d have to give my heart to the characters. Laia is the only member of her family who remains uncaught by the Empire, yet she suffers largely from all the losses. Still, she’s so brave and true and persistent — she’d do just about anything to save her older brother (and she has).
Elias is the second POV character in this book, and admittedly, it took a while for me to find something significant about him. He’s a soldier torn between his duty and freedom, but what I found more fascinating was his relationship with Helene, his best friend. Where Helene is faithfully loyal to the Empire, Elias longs to desert, yet the bond between these two is beyond blood, duty, and freedom. With that said, it sure made things interesting with all the tension going around (ahem, love triangle/square???)… but that wasn’t the major focus considering the circumstances.
An Ember in the Ashes is sharply written, with characters you could only hope to revisit again. With all the buzz surrounding this book, I’m almost certain there will be another book for readers to fawn over… hopefully sometime soon.