Author: 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.
Review: Okay, Penguin. You can green light the sequel now – BECAUSE THERE IS NO POSSIBLE WAY THE STORY CAN END LIKE THAT.
As a Classics minor, I am no stranger to the cruel role prophecy and fate can play in stories from the ancient civilizations. Therefore, I should have been prepared for what was to come; after all, the signs are clear throughout the novel. But I am still hurt, and the only way I am going to be able to recover is if I receive a sequel so I can learn more (because at the moment I am going to throw aside all the even more devastating scenarios prophecy and fate can take as/if the story continues).
An Ember in the Ashes is the tale of Laia and Elias. At the beginning of the story, she loses all of the family she has left, which forces her to resort to the only path she believes to be available to her. In exchange for the rescue of her brother, Laia agrees to go undercover at the military academy of the people who conquered hers; to do this she will need to be sold into slavery, and more importantly: survive her mistress. Meanwhile, Elias is on the verge of graduating from the academy and has desertion of the military on his mind. Before he is able to do so, an Augur speaks to him and brings to Blackcliff the fulfillment of a long-awaited prophecy: the emperor’s line is not to continue, and his successor is to be chosen amongst the top four new graduates. They must compete against each other in The Trials to see who emerges as the Foretold.
I won’t say more than that – because spoilers! – but I sincerely hope that bit of information is enough to entice you. This book has the power to suck its reader into its world. For one, you follow Laia on her mission, as she experiences fear, betrayal, pain, and the growth into the courage to realize she can not ask others to rescue her for she must do it herself. Elias offered my favorite arc, as he grows to realize that freedom is not achieved through desertion but through the peace of body and soul as he draws the line between what he will do and what he will not do in accordance with the person he is rather than what those around him wish him to be.
The secondary characters also offer plenty to the story, the most significant in my eyes being Helene, a fellow participant in The Trials and Elias’ best friend since they arrived at Blackcliff at age six. To follow these two throughout The Trials as they work together then are torn apart by personal desires was both as beautiful and as brutal as the tasks they are set to complete. In many ways, I think it is worthwhile to note that brutality and the loss of humanity is an important theme of this book, as it should be since it is modeled after a Rome-like civilization. This is not an easy story to read; at many times you will feel angry and sick due to what these characters face.
But do I think this is a tale worth reading? Absolutely. To me it read like something perfectly in line with the classics.
(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The expected release date is April 28, 2015)