Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
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
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 is the best fantasy
adventure I’ve read in a long time. First of all, the setting is quite unusual
for a (western) high fantasy novel. It simultaneously brings to mind The Roman
Empire and One Thousand and One Nights.
The world the story takes place in is at once complex and intricate, and easy
to understand and follow. Tahir blends together history and magic in a way that
makes the story come alive. The thing that really made this story stand out in
my eyes was the fact that the characters were all ordinary people, not kings or
nobility as is often the case in fantasy novels. This is a story of the
oppressed – slaves and rebels and soldiers fighting against their will. It
makes everything feel raw and real.
The main characters of this
story are Laia and Elias. They are both narrators – the story is told from dual
points of view, both in first person. At first I was worried this would lead to
some confusion. This was the case when I read Allegiant, which is told with the
same technique. Then I kept forgetting who it was telling the story, and
sometimes had to go back and reread entire chapters because I had thought it
was Tris narrating when in fact it was Four. Surprisingly, I did not have that
issue with this book at all. I think it has to do with the fact that Laia and
Elias have such different lives. Their stories are very different and they are
often in different places, so it’s easy to keep track of who it is you are
reading about. It also helped that the chapters weren’t too long, making it
easy to avoid putting the book down in the middle of one.
I really liked the character
of Laia. Throughout the novel she is afraid and shows her weaknesses, but she
still rises to the challenge. She is so much braver and stronger than she
thinks, and she has such a good heart in spite of the world she lives in and
the terrors of her past. Somehow, she reminded me a lot of Disney’s Moana; both
in spirit and in looks. Elias is also a character who has many weaknesses,
which makes him more human. However, he has his heart in the right place and is
unexpectedly kind given his past. He reminds me a bit of Bellamy from the 100.
Both Laia and Elias have flaws and make mistakes, which makes them much more
real and relatable.
I brought this book with me on
a recent trip to Paris, and there was not one dull moment of the flight and
train journey it took me to get there and back again. It was such an immersive
read that I was surprised at how much I had read and how much time had passed
when I put the book down. The story is high paced throughout, and the
underlying mystery and secrecy makes it a proper page-turner. However, I’m
gonna have to put a trigger warning for rape on this book, as it was featured
quite a few times, either mentioned or as a threat.
This is the perfect book for
loosing yourself in. It has it all; great worldbuilding, complex characters,
and a thrilling plot. I also really liked the writing style and the message. I
highly recommend it to all fantasy lovers who are looking for a refreshing and
unique series. I am so glad I decided to pick this book up, and now I am
desperate to read the sequel.
//love from L
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