Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1) by Sabaa Tahir
Number of pages: 446
Date Published: April 28, 2015
Actual rating: 4.5 stars
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.
Once upon a time, you find a book that holds you by the throat and hands you chest pains and fits of madness on a silver platter. An Ember in the Ashes is that kind of book.
The field of battle is my temple. The swordpoint is my priest. The dance of death is my prayer. The killing blow is my release.
This book is a masterpiece that strikes a balance between compelling and utterly revolting. On the one hand we have the Martial Empire vs. the Scholars, both masters of stealth and vessels of desire – for power, for vengeance, for freedom. On the other hand, we have Elias and Laia – a soldier and a slave, the thought of togetherness is impossible and loathsome, yet their fate and their desires declare otherwise.
This book emits such an unsettling vibe and calls forth an army of emotions that makes it impossible to put down. I struggled as my mind fabricated worst case scenarios. My breath hitched repeatedly at the thought that someone is going to get caught. Someone is going to get killed, and I am going to have to read about it. My goodness.
I am drawn to the characters and their flaws. It pleased me to read about a protagonist who struggles with her fears, who does not lie to herself, or engage in reckless resolve. It’s satisfying to see characters with strong back stories and mysterious intents, characters who don’t settle on saying their piece, but ultimately flash themselves as codes to decipher. I am even thankful for the commandant. She’s a heartless bitch, yet some part of me asks if that’s all she’ll ever be. At any rate, I have never hated a character so much.
A star is missing of course, on account of well, personal preferences. I don’t mind the romance, I really don’t. It isn’t spread all over the story (thank heavens for that), but the on and off whims of attraction to just about anybody almost got a bit too tedious for my taste. Well, it wasn’t enough to throw me off at least.
The world building was just to my liking. I enjoyed those brief tales about jinns, efrits, and wraiths. I took my sweet time googling ghuls, augurs, and all kinds of twisted creatures. The occasional glimpse into the paranormal was enough to ignite my curiosity.
Lastly, we have the trials. What a devious competition. I stopped to think whether it might all be a lie because it sounds too merciless to be true, but well, shit. It isn’t. End of story. Oh, but wait, the augurs are still one heck of a mystery.Those red-eyed creeps…
I think I’ll ponder some more on my rating, but you know what, it doesn’t matter because this book is definitely worth the read. I love what Tahir has done so far, and I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us.
There are two kinds of guilt. The kind that’s a burden and the kind that gives you purpose. Let your guilt be your fuel. Let it remind you of who you want to be. Draw a line in your mind. Never cross it again. You have a soul. It’s damaged but it’s there. Don’t let them take it from you.