An Ember in the Ashes
by Sabaa Tahir Series: Published by Penguin
on April 28th 2015 Genres: Fantasy & Magic
, Love & Romance
, Young Adult Format:
Set in a terrifyingly brutal Rome-like world, An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom. It’s a story that’s literally burning to be told. 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.
An Ember in the Ashes is going to be popular. More violent than The Hunger Games, An Ember in the Ashes tells the story of a brutal world where rape, execution, and all kinds of torture-gorging people’s eyes out or engraving letters into their skin with knives- is a common thing. Our two protagonists, Elias and Laia, born and raised between two warring societies, cross paths. And it might just change everything.
Sabba Tahir’s world-building is spectacular. She expertly weaves the tale of Blackcliff Academy-the violent school for Martials and soldiers, and writes the savage people that spend their days killing, fighting, raping, and destroying, taught to do these things since birth. She also tells the story of a past golden empire: the Scholars, who lost their beauty, intelligence, and strong society to the Martials. Essentially, the plot for An Ember in the Ashes picks up after the Scholar Empire has been conquered and the Martial society is ruling them harshly.
These dynamics create an intense, violent world, and as the novel weaves itself together, Tahir adds in terrifying creatures thought to be myths, Hunger Games-like Trials where winning is losing your soul and losing is winning your instant death, and a world where no one will give you aid unless your play as their pawn.
For more than half of the book, Elias and Laia’s paths are pivoting towards each other, and as more about their characters is established, I began to wonder what kind of relationship would emerge when their paths finally crossed: Friendship? Love? Enemy? This and more is revealed as the book progresses, though I wasn’t very happy with their relationship. Why? A love square occurs.
Exactly how I feel, Harry.
So, you’re a slave girl trying to save her brother from being executed, and you really have time to compare the boys you like? To think about them, dream about them? So you’re a guy competing in a life-or-death competition, fighting to rule the whole empire you live in, and you’ve got time to fawn over two girls, valuable time that could be used to, you know, come up with a plan to make sure you don’t get yourself killed in the next Trial you’re competing in? If I were you, Elias, I’d be scrambling over my feet to some ancient library or getting myself a mentor similar to Gandalf or Dumbledore, because, heck, I wouldn’t want to die! Come on, my dear protagonists, can we really think about what’s on the line here?
The love square droned on throughout half of the book, and I was really annoyed because neither of our protagonists never truly make it clear who they are going to choose. Of course, I had an inkling of who would end up with who, but both characters drone on and on about their love interests, misleading the readers into creating what I assume is going to be huge shipping war.
Another problem I had with the love aspects of this book was the characters themselves. They did not move me, and I felt as if I was passively standing on the side, not really feeling any impactful emotions when something happened to them. Sure, I cringed for them a few times, and maybe cracked a few smiles, but overall, they didn’t leave that big of a mark on me. Clearly, though, they are very important in the world they lived in, because they are both described as “Embers in the Ashes.”
“You are an Ember in the Ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”
“You are full, Laia. Full of life an dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an Ember in the Ashes.”
Though what being “An Ember in the Ashes” means, I cannot but scratch the surface in theories. My hope is that these questions will be answered in future sequels. I could feel a bigger plot unfolding as I continued reading, and Sabba Tahir surely has plans for her characters, I can feel it. Though, what they go through in this installment would be enough for everybody and his brother in terms of violence, pain, and death.
Elias, specifically, competes in something called the “Trials”, competitions that decide who is going to be the next Emperor. The author does have some unique ideas for these Trials, but I found that some of the last ones bled together in my mind, and all that I remember of them is that there were some battles. The fighting got a little repetitive, and I wished that more ideas could have expanded out of The Hunger Game’s standard “fight-to-the-death-now” arena, which has become more of a plot device. With all of the trials and tests from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Divergent, and The Hunger Games, I feel as if authors are now waging a battle against each other to see who can torture their protagonists more creatively and more violently. There are not many original ideas left, and I do applaud Sabba Tahir for her especially unique idea for the first Trial, a Battlefield that shows death’s past, present, and future. Without spoiling you, I’ll tell you know that it was a spectacular idea, surely to be unique to the whole YA genre. Besides this, the constant fighting to the death wasn’t new, and I did find myself wanting more unique ideas for each of the Trials.
To sum up, An Ember in the Ashes had a steady plot and fantabulous world-building, but the love square killed off what could have been a five star rating from me.