Title: An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1)
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Release Date and Publisher: February 2016, Razorbill
Star Rating: ★★★★★
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.
The reason why it took me a long time to read this book was due to the huge amount of hype it received from other readers. While I do read overhyped books, I still get wary of them, especially if it’s an author’s debut novel. I heard a lot of good things about the book, but I also read some bad things. Thus, I put reading it to a hold for a very long time. But when I finally started it, I couldn’t make myself believe that it took me a long time to pick it up! It was an amazing ride to read! Simply beautifully written!
During the first part of the book, it started off slowly as the characters were being introduced and conflicts were laid out. I didn’t particularly cared for Laia’s story in the beginning. It was probably because her character hasn’t given her full potential yet, and she was a slowly developing character. There would be a few scenes where I didn’t connect with her. An example would be where she kept on whining about how Darrin must be saved, and she’ll do whatever it takes to get him back. While I admire her strength and tenacity, it was sometimes annoying. Elias, on the other hand, I was able to easily step into his shoes. Maybe because he was already a strong character when he was introduced and his background was much more interesting than that of Laia’s. But I learned to appreciate both characters and other minor characters as the story went on.
As the story progressed, I found myself getting into the story, my attention slowly on it. What I loved a lot about this book is how it focused on each character’s conflicts and its world-building aspect. Throughout the novel, the conflict was slowly being laid out until it reached its climax, and how the characters were looking for solutions on how to solve it. The world-building was a bit difficult to picture at the beginning, but the maps included and the clear descriptions of the characters and settings were so tastefully written and described that it was a huge help as I imagined the story in my head. That easily made me dive in deep into it more. These two factors lead to one fantastic story that successfully caught a lot of readers’ – including myself – attentions. I also admired while the love story between the major characters were played out, it was not the sole focus of the novel. It’s hard to find young adult books nowadays wherein romance is not the main driving key of the story. It was present, but you wouldn’t let yourself focus on it when there are more pressing matters discussed in the book.
I’m highly recommending this book to everyone because it is really worth the hype and to high fantasy fans who want a more diverse set of characters and settings. To fans of Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy mixed with fantasy and a bit of mythology, this is a two-thumbs up book.