Author: Sabaa Tahir
Publication Date: 28 April 2015
Rating: 4 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.I have consistently heard two things about An Ember in the Ashes: (1) That it is great (2) That it is brutal. I agree with both of those statements, but before I read the book I worried about the second. In case anyone else worried about the brutality as well, here's my perspective of it. This semester I had just taken and World History I class where we learned about Rome and Sparta, both of which have elements that can be found in the novel. I also recently read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass which is the autobiography of an escaped slave. These two things made me look at the brutality in An Ember in the Ashes as being realistic, not surprising. Is it horrible? Yes. Is it over the top and unbelievable? Unfortunately, no.
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. - Summary from Goodreads
While the book is brutal, there are scenes in it which make me smile. Those are the scenes that make the rest of the book worth it. I cared about Laia and Elias. I rooted for them, I hated what they had to go through, I loved the scenes when they were together. I shipped them, but at the same time I was unsure, like the characters, because their feelings were a confusing mess. I wouldn't say that there are any love triangles/squares in this novel, I think it is better described as a confusion of the heart.
Towards the end of the book I really didn't know what was going to happen or how everything was going to get fixed. There were plenty of times when I wondered, how is this going to be finished by the end? The answer is that not everything is tied up by the last page. It does not leave a cliff hanger, but many things set up at the beginning are not concluded in the end. This is just the beginning of a larger story and I would have felt cheated if there wasn't going to be a second book. I'll definitely be reading the sequel when it comes out.
An Ember in the Ashes shows that even amongst the brutality there is friendship, loyalty, love, and hope. That is what makes this novel worth reading.