An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1) by Sabaa Tahir
Published by Razorbill on February 9, 2016
Genres: Fantasy / Pages: 446
Format: Book / Source: Purchased
Rating: 4 stars
An action-packed and FEELS-filled start to a new series — I NEED book 2!!*
*Of course I bought the paperback and the sequel is only out in hardcover, GAH. Hate when book formats don’t match. >.<
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.
The main characters
Elias is a very complicated soul who knows what he wants, but he’s not EXACTLY sure how much he is willing to risk to have it. What he wants is freedom from the Empire, which is a horrible pit of death/doom/evil-masks-that-eat-your-face. Elias is all prepared to MacGyver his way out of being a soulless Mask soldier after graduation when an Augur intervenes — the Augurs are very reminiscent of the Delphic oracles from Ancient Greece, so super cryptic and frustrating guides to the future but now with red scary eyes, ability to “read” minds, and other fun stuff (<- I pretended they looked like dracula O=D ). Elias has a heart of gold, but the book and various plot twists could be the equivalent of dwarves mining for that same metal, trying to devour all of his goodness before we reach the end.
Laia, on the other hand, goes through a fairly large character arc — convinced she is a cowardly lion who later then realizes that she a) has teeth, b) has BIG teeth, and c) wants to eat some meat (<- aka anyone who won’t help her get her brother back). I LOVED Laia’s determination and porcupine-like stubborness, even if she was a naively trusting woodland creature at the beginning.
There are tons of secondary characters, not all of whom play a pivotal role — to be fair some of Elias’ friends became Hogwarts students in my head (from the movies) because I HAVE NO IDEA WHO THEY WERE, except that there should be FEELS if something happens to them. (*not saying it does, but if it were to…*) Of course, there are plenty who DO play a pivotal role, but spoilers are no fun, so you get to go in blind. 🙂 You’re welcome!
The good stuff
- While there is definitely an Ancient Rome conquering the Etruscans-vibe to the world building, there was also a lot of INNOVATIVE changes made by Tahir. The face-eating-masks (okay, they may not actually eat your face, but that’s what I pictured based on the descriptions so I’m going with it >.<) and Augurs from above are just two examples.
- ELIAS. ahem. I do not ALWAYS fangirl over the guy MCs (<- lies #totalfangirl), but Elias so actively struggles against the situation the Augur puts him in that there was some major empathy going on.
- LAIA (hah! surprised you right? :D) has some confidence issues that are totally relatable (aside from the having to spy and not-get-killed part) and her journey weaves throughout the plot so it doesn’t come across like someone threw a frying pan of NOW EVERYONE BE CONFIDENT in your face.
- The plot moves ridiculously fast. ‘Tis fun.
- The possible/almost definite overarching bad guy. 😀 There are a lot of mythos and fantasy elements developed in this world-system that we only see bits and pieces of during AEITA, BUT we are clearly going to see more!! *does happy dance*
- While there is clearly another book based on the ending, it does wrap up a decent amount of the plot — I wouldn’t quite consider it a cliffhanger.
The bad stuff
- The food is atrocious. Yes, yes, this isn’t a cookbook, but the Mask trainees basically get fed slop…. that is NOT what you serve to get fierce, loyal, and better-than-dragon soldiers! Look at modern day athletes and their nitty-gritty food planning regimes. It also did not sound appetizing to the reader. #justsayin’
- There is a hint at a possible love triangle in the future, but really? No. Move on. Other readers may enjoy that aspect of the book, but *yawn* I would rather have more ELIAS PLEASE!!!
So I enjoyed this one quite a bit! It didn’t quite feeeeel like a 5 star book, but I’m not sure I can completely justify that based on my comments…. food for thought. O=)
Have you read AEITA? Do you think this review should be 4 or 5 stars? Would you want a face-eating-mask for Christmas?