Written by Sabaa Tahir
Published April 27th 2015
Thank you to Harper Voyager
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What if you were the spark that could ignite a revolution?For years Laia has lived in fear. Fear of the Empire, fear of the Martials, fear of truly living at all. Born as a Scholar, she’s never had much of a choice.For Elias it’s the opposite. He has seen too much on his path to becoming a Mask, one of the Empire’s elite soldiers. With the Masks' help the Empire has conquered a continent and enslaved thousands, all in the name of power.When Laia’s brother is taken she must force herself to help the Resistance, the only people who have a chance of saving him. She must spy on the Commandant, ruthless overseer of Blackcliff Academy. Blackcliff is the training ground for Masks and the very place that Elias is planning to escape. If he succeeds, he will be named deserter. If found, the punishment will be death.But once Laia and Elias meet, they will find that their destinies are intertwined and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.In the ashes of a broken world one person can make a difference. One voice in the dark can be heard. The price of freedom is always high and this time that price might demand everything, even life itself.
Laia lives a humble life living within the Scholar community, where the brutal Martials reign supreme and leave the townsfolk cowering in fear. Living with her grandparents, she and brother Darin work to put food on the table, while Darin is increasingly distancing himself for the favour of his sketches. He's secretive and sneaks out each night, until the Empire are on their doorstep. A night raid ensures no witnesses and with a Mask in attendance, the deadly elite soldier is unlikely to leave anyone alive.
Laia has no option but to run while Darin is being taken captive. Alone and now with Darin her only remaining family member, Laia enlists the aid of the Resistance, an underground group of revolutionaries once affiliated with her late parents. In exchange for freeing Darin, they propose that Laia infiltrate Blackcliff, a school under the order of the Empire, where killers are trained. Posing as a slave, Laia will work as a house slave under the Commandant to gather information about the upcoming Aspirant trials.
But she never expected to run into Elias, the Commandant's son who is on the verge of deserting the Empire. With a need to protect Laia, his peers begin to question his loyalty and Laia will be used against him in the ultimate test of allegiance. Laia believes he cannot be trusted, but it won't be Elias who will betray her. Time is running out to free Darin, but with her own life in the hands of Blackcliff, Laia just may be the one who needs saving.
My review for An Ember in The Ashes is one of the most difficult I've felt expressing. When you absolutely adore a book so deeply, that you're left lost for words. From the world building, to the characters, even the romance and just when you think you've read it all.
Told in dual points of view, Laia is a Scholar, a girl who lives to make ends meet for her grandparents, since the death of her parents some years ago. Her brother leaves for hours at a time, taking his sketch book in the middle of the night and bringing the Empire raid in his wake. The Legionaries spare no mercy, capturing Darin in the raid and forcing Laia to flee. With a deadly Mask hunting her, she has no choice but to heed the warning of her late parents and seek the aid of the underground Resistance. But their assistance comes at a price.
Elias is an elite soldier in training, expected to fulfill his role as a brutal Mask upon the completion of graduation. But Elias has other plans. He wants to escape, to free himself of his mother's cold and calculating reign over Blackcliff, his internal struggle against needless killing not going unnoticed by his peers. Before Elias can escape, he's chosen as an Aspirant for the trials to determine who will be the next leader. Three tests that decide the victor. But Elias isn't the bloodthirsty monster his mother is, or his grandfather expects him to be.
Two world collide when Laia is brought to Blackcliff, a lowly house slave with fire in her eyes and a determination that Elias sees in himself. It was glorious! The romance takes a backseat to the oppression and darkness of their world as the two form a tentative friendship. It mixes a dystopian society with fantasy and a touch of the brutality of the Roman and Greek empires with the battle of intelligence against arms. The world building was immaculate, from the wary streets of the Scholars, to the darkness that surrounds the Academy, it was so incredibly vivid and set the scene for an enslaved and oppressed society. The intensity was delicious, the characters well developed and although set in a world so far removed from modern day society, they were crafted to be likable and relatable. The secondary characters were distinct and Sabaa Tahir was able to weave in their individuality, where so many young adult books seem to skim over.
It was utterly stunning! It instilled in me a sense of righteousness, I wasn't only immersed, but felt as though I was placed in the action. I loved it. Every. Single. Moment.
Read. It. An Ember in The Ashes isn't a book you borrow, it's a book you need to own and read it again and again. This isn't yet another fantasy slash dystopian, it's immaculate. It'll have you completely immersed and torn between wanting to savoir the storyline and flying through the pages demanding to know where Sabaa Tahir will take the reader next. I loved it. I adored it. And now I'm hungry for more.