Book Review: An Ember in The Ashes by Sabaa Tahir


emberAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Synopsis:

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.

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Wow. Just wow. I LOVED this book. I picked up a copy of Torch Against the Night at YALC, so I wanted to read this quickly, so I got the audiobook, and I’m so glad I did!

Plot
The story was compelling and emotive, complete with a world full of culture and history well thought out and conveyed to the reader. I had no trouble understanding the struggle the Scholars lived through, and the contrast of Helene’s devotion to the Empire to Elias’ defiance really gave understanding to the motivations behind the Martial’s behaviors.
I love the concept of the masks that merge to the soldier’s faces, and the subtle use of magic throughout the story, which I hope will become even more apparent in the 2nd novel, A Torch against the Night.
I was so completely hooked, I felt their desperation and horror at what they went through. I love how ultimately they both have what the other wants: Elias wants freedom, where Laia chooses to be a slave in order to save her brother.
There’s a lovely love… square? Going on, which adds to the story but does not detract from it, nor does the story rely on it, which is refreshing.

Characters
Laia’s struggle is believable. She doesn’t just do what needs to be done, no questions asked. You really understand her motivations and her struggles, she has weaknesses and overcomes them with her love for her brother. She goes through terrible things and they almost break her, but she comes out the other side stronger. She learns.

Elias also struggles, but differently to Laia in so many ways but still the same in so many others. I loved that from an outsider’s point of view he seems to be perfect, perfect breeding and perfect student, when it couldn’t be further from the truth.

I also love how he would be nothing without Helene. It’s mostly subtle, but there are a few occasions where, even though it appears he’s saving her, she is really saving him (I’d love to talk about this more with some fellow emberlings!) One such example I’ll put at the end of this post!

I’m not a huge fan of Keenan, if I’m honest. I’ll leave that as that though.

Structure
Ember is written in first person present, which is done so beautifully. I haven’t read many like this and I was so absorbed, I loved it! It switches between Elias’ POV and Laia’s, and it’s nicely done.

Narrators
I want to talk about the wonderful Jack Farrar and Aysha Kala. Their voices were beautiful, so emotive and drew me in completely. They brought Sabaa’s story to life in ways my own mind would not have been able to. Aysha’s soft voice lent an innocence to Laia’s character, making me feel deeply her struggles between wanting to do the right thing and her fear and survival instincts.
Jack’s voice made me love Elias so deeply, it brought to life his turmoil, his utter disgust at what was expected of him and his desires to be free. He even gave Helene a definitive voice, which is always lovely as there’s nothing more jarring than when all secondary characters sound the same.

I think maybe my one tiny issue with the story was how free slaves were to move about. I get they had slave cuffs which marked them as enslaved, but surely it wouldn’t be hard to get them removed and to disappear? Just a thought.

DEFINITELY READ THIS NOVEL! Please talk to me about this book!

Thoughts on Helene: Mildly spoilerish:

When Elias is in the first trial, seeing all the dead he will kill in the future, it’s only when he sees Helene approaching does he finally decide that he’d NEVER kill her, thus allowing him to overcome his fears and to defeat the trial. HOWEVER, Helene wasn’t part of the vision, she was really there.

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