I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Published by Penguin on April 28th 2015
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Love & Romance, Politics & Government, Young Adult
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I WILL TELL YOU THE SAME THING I TELL EVERY SLAVE. THE RESISTANCE HAS TRIED TO PENETRATE THIS SCHOOL COUNTLESS TIMES. I HAVE DISCOVERED IT EVERY TIME. IF YOU ARE WORKING WITH THE RESISTANCE, IF YOU CONTACT THEM, IF YOU THINK OF CONTACTING THEM, I WILL KNOW AND I WILL DESTROY YOU. LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution. ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier— and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor. When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.
When ARCs of An Ember In The Ashes by Sabaa Tahir hit the twitters and the bookternets, I was DESPERATE for one. As in, ohhh publisher overlords please send me one! I really wanted to read this book because I am such a nut for fantasy and books with a sort of caste system. I just find social stratification fascinating. Granted, I’ve been in and out of the book blogging game these days (hi yes, I still miss all of you deeply and desperately and one day I will return completely, give me time). So, okay one day I got super lucky and was refreshing Amazon Vine and like mana from the heavens, there was a copy of this book in my queue and all was good.
Sabaa Tahir’s debut, An Ember In The Ashes is an intense read. Straight up, the book opens on a violent note. We start with main character Laia’s point of view. She’s hanging out at home with her Nan and Pop when there’s a raid by these people called the Martials and her grandparents are killed and her brother Darin is taken by an elite group of soldiers called Masks. With no other options, Laia runs away to a group of Rebels invoking an old system of honor for help in freeing her brother. Laia’s going to have to work for what she wants though. In exchange for their help, she is asked to spy on the Commandant at an elite school called Blackcliff. No spies survive under the Commandant. I am sure you are confused at this point. Don’t worry, I’ll explain the social stratification.
Meanwhile, every other chapter takes on the point of view of a male character named Elias. Elias is the son of the Commandant, don’t confuse this for privilege though. You see, he’s her unwanted son and she actually left him out in the desert to be exposed. Yet, Elias was found and made to go to Blackcliff which is like the worst school ever. It is even worse than Hogwarts under the regime of Dolores Umbridge, if that gives you any clue. Anyways, Elias is picked by these mystical beings called Augurs to compete as an Aspirant in what’s called the Trials which are meant to select the next emperor called the Foretold and the emperor’s right hand, called Blood Shrike.
Now, if you are the sort of reader who is all about that characterization, you are going to be pleased with An Ember In The Ashes. This book offers a dual point of view with two dynamic characters. Both Laia and Elias grow and develop throughout the book. They change. Laia starts off as a scared, vulnerable person. She is absolutely terrified and doesn’t see herself as being brave like her parents. Laia’s journey is a fascinating one. It’s worth reading. Then there’s Elias who has this inner conflict where he wants nothing more than to be free and do the right thing, however, the right thing is not exactly clear or easy to figure out. There’s some moral ambiguity to what Elias undergoes and I think in a way this makes him a bit more interesting than Laia.
Okay, so Sabaa Tahir’s world is richly imagined. In An Ember In The Ashes there’s a stratification of the people. Laia is from a class and group of people known as the Scholars. They used to be at the top but now they are at the bottom and are subjugated by a group of people known as the Martials. Elias is a Martial, however he was raised by Tribesman. Anyways, the Martials absolutely hate the Scholars and as a reader I was irritated at not knowing why. However, it all weaves together. This book is kind of like a mosaic, in that one small piece doesn’t make a ton of sense, but when you step back you get this awesome and amazing picture.