Sunday, 14 February 2016

An Ember in the Ashes

An 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 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. {goodreads summary}

An electric novel which kept me gripped until the very end. An Ember in the Ashes is a dual narrative, fantasy YA novel split between two very distinctive, but equally interesting, characters: Laia and Elias. 

“Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after."

At the beginning of the novel, Laia is weak, nervous and scared. She is almost an anti-heroine in terms YA stereotypes. She behaves in the way most ordinary people would if their world was torn apart and they were forced into a terrifying, deadly situation. As a result, she is really easy to relate to and I found myself rooting for her instantly. 

“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.” 

Elias is a soldier, trapped in a world of violence and fear that he doesn't want to be a part of. The strongest facet of his personality is his humanity; his desire to get away from the death and destruction his people force him to commit. His motivations are clear to understand, even when he does heart-wrenching, terrible things. 

“All the beauty of the stars means nothing when life here on earth is so ugly.” 

One of the strongest elements of this novel was its antagonist. Keris, the commandant, is almost Umbridge-level horrible. So far, she doesn't appear to care about anyone other than herself and her brutality knows no limits. I really hopes she gets her comeuppance by the end of the series; I'm looking forward to seeing her suffer! There was some really strong characterisation throughout the novel and the secondary characters are all very well developed. Although I have questions and theories about some (like Cook) which I hope are answered in future books. 

“I'd rather die than live with no mercy, no honor, no soul.”

An Ember in the Ashes is very deserving of the praise and accolades it has received so far. It is a brilliantly written book and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next when book two comes out in August. 

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