An Ember in the Ashes
Release Date: April 28, 2015
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Synopsis on Goodreads:
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.
I rated it 3 stars on Goodreads, but my actual rating is 3.5 stars; the first half was a 3 for me, the last half a 4. It’s a good book – not the best – but still good. I do believe it’s overhyped. I really liked the writing, but it took me awhile to like the characters and world to the same degree. The first 75 pages were hard to read because I didn’t like Laia and things didn’t seem to get interesting until that point. I liked both perspectives Laia and Elias provided, but I still don’t 100% connect with Laia like I did Elias – I just find her character annoying and tedious. Every time Laia would beat herself up for being a coward, for not being like her mother, here’s me saying it’s okay to run away and be a coward – I’m sure her brother wanted her to be safe, not get locked up like him. So what if you’re a coward? Accept it, move on and work on freeing your brother, not dwelling on the past.
The romance between Elias and Laia as well as Laia and Keenan wasn’t really believable because they didn’t spend a lot of time together. There’s actually this love square? going on so Laia has two love interests and Elias has two. Helene and Elias made sense together because they’ve known each other for years, it’s the best-friends-fall-in-love trope that Tahir makes work. The same cannot be said for Laia’s love interests. The reader gets more time with the characters than they do with each other. That paints an illusion, so it seems like they’ve had enough time together, but I’m sure if you add it up it’s lower than expected. I predict in the sequel they’ll be spending more time together so that’s when I’d actually expect romance to happen.
I really liked the way the author made the past surrounding Laia’s parents and the Commandant so mysterious – I can usually predict things like this, but I’m still thinking through theories about them! The nervousness surrounding Cook was especially interesting. All those secrets is the main reason I’ll be reading the sequel – Tahir makes me want to know.
I really liked the trials – the third trial was especially hard to read, so I commend the author for being able to create such an impact. I could imagine these scenes so well and they were fantastic to read. I’m not as in love with the world as I’d like to be – I always need magic and fantastical elements, so only seeing a hint in the last half wasn’t enough for me. The world is dystopia and fantasy, which is an interesting mix, but I still need that extra bit of fantasy. World-building is a big thing for me, so I wish the author had shared a bit more of where the Martial Empire came from along with details of the 500-year old rule over the Scholars. The Tribes were also a bit confusing – are they bound by Martial rule, can they be made slaves like the scholars? The world-building is strong though so I’m excited to read more about that in the sequel.
Finally, something I feel really strongly about is how casually rape was mentioned. It felt like just a four-letter word, not something that has a deep impact on people. Yes, the author’s world is meant to be cruel and is inspired by the Roman Empire, but you still need to show that things like rape are more than a four-letter word. It’s said and insinuated too much, without the impact and discussion that should follow.
I’m planning to read the sequel, but it might take awhile for me to get to it. For those who have read it, I’d love to know your thoughts!