Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Thursday, 18 June 2015
Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Release Date: June 4th, 2015 (UK)
Book one of a series
Goodreads | Book Depository
This is absolutely my favourite book of the year so far. Set in a terrifying Ancient Rome like world, An Ember in the Ashes tells the story of a young girl fighting to save the remnants of her family and a soldier who wants to escape the brutality of the military and find freedom.
Laia lives with her grandparents and her brother after her parents and older sister were murdered by the military. A Mask (a soldier) comes after her brother which results in his capture, the murder of their grandparents and Laia on the run to find The Resistance: the rebels trying to overturn the empire. The Resistance agree to help her on one condition: she goes undercover as a slave to the Commandant in Blackcliff Academy.
Elias is a soldier at Blackcliff Academy under the rule of the horrific Commandant. He has been a student there since he was six years old and has been subjected to a lifetime of brutality, torture and violence. He doesn't agree with the way the empire is run, has had enough of the unnecessary violence and is planning his escape to freedom.
The world-building is really top-notch. It is a cold, brutal, terrifying world and you can't help but feel scared for the characters. I was constantly on the edge of my seat urging the characters to not get caught. The Trials were particularly grim and heart-wrenching and I couldn't believe some of the things they had to do!
The Commandant is one of those convincing villains who is truly scary and really live up to their reputation. She isn't someone who is all words and no action; she absolutely carries out her threats. She has no mercy, she doesn't show any sympathy and is completely cold-hearted. She has no qualms about torturing her slaves and you really don't want to get on her wrong side.
There is a love square but it doesn't completely overtake the rest of the story. There is still so much action and suspense and the romance just burns nicely alongside. Laia and Elias is a forbidden love as soldiers and slaves cannot have relationships (the soldiers are only allowed to rape them!) but their chemistry feels very real. But Laia also finds herself attracted to Keenan who is her handler/informant in the Resistance and who has also lost his family so they have a true connection. Helene has been Elias's best friend since they were six and she is in love with him but Elias doesn't want to ruin their friendship and doesn't reciprocate the strong romantic feelings. Despite all of the romantic feelings flying around, there is also a strong friendship component woven throughout. This was refreshing as other relationships, and the implications of those relationships, were explored rather than just romantic ones.
The writing is some of the best I have read; compelling, picturesque and makes for a real page-turner.
This was originally plugged as a standalone but I am really happy to hear that there will be a sequel as I think there are too many questions left hanging for it to be a sufficient standalone. There is still so much left to be explored and I'm so excited to meet these characters again.