Review An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Review An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

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.
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Genres: High Fantasy, Young Adult, Dystopian
My thoughts:
“Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after. Such moments are tests of courage, of strength.”
Every once in a while, a book comes along that shatters your expectations. Case in instance is a book so explosive and intense, deeply enthralling and equally disturbing. A book you'll proudly hold dear despite the bloodlust woven into its very essence. A book called An Ember in the Ashes, written by Sabaa Tahir and loved by many bookworms everywhere. Well I finally joined the party, because this book? Flawless. 
From the very first pages, the world we're thrust into is unraveled and defines what type of a universe we'll emerge ourselves in: the Empire is ruled by gruesome violence, brutality and death. Ever since the Martial Empire overtook the Scholars five hundred years ago, Martials are all but gods in their own eyes next to the scum of Scholars. Seeing this imbalance played out realistically by Tahir is hard to stomach, but completely captivating. You thought Panem had it harsh? Or Herran? Think again.
Couple that hellish (but amazing) world-building with the fact that most of the plot focuses on a deadly school that basically creates assassins in the name of the Empire, you are ensured to stay at the edge of your seat from start to finish.
The point of view alternates between Laia and Elias, two very different characters, yet with their fates intertwined. It's no easy feat to master two distinct voices, but the author managed it effortlessly, spinning the tale in such a way that never once felt redundant even though the chronology overlapped in places. This way, the intensity only amplifies and implicitly keeps you glued to the pages.
“The field of battle is my temple. The swordpoint is my priest. The dance of death is my prayer. The killing blow is my release.”
Laia was a wonder. Insecure to no end, but with an inner strength that simply astounded me, her character development will leave you speechless. I have so many questions about the real role she'll be playing in the grand scheme of things, because although she proved her courage, endurance and kindness, I believe wholeheartedly that she will affect the rest of the story profoundly.
“Fear can be good, Laia. It can keep you alive. But don't let it control you. Don't let it sow doubts within you. When the fear takes over, use the only thing more powerful, more indestructible to fight it: your spirit. Your heart.”
Elias is another character to behold. He is undoubtedly one of the best nuanced male characters I've ever read about. A powerful warrior, yet a kind heart -- the combination is dangerous, but glorious. I loved his determination to remain himself through every obstacle he faced, I loved the fact that he sees through the Empire's evil and I loved his respect for his comrades. He has a gut-wrenching journey in this book and his despair from the Third Trial was unbelievably hard to witness.
“This life is not always what we think it will be,” Cain says. “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.”
But another truly remarkable character was Helene, Elias's best friend. She was fierce, protective and determined and I just loved her, because under all that deadliness she was still a girl with dreams.
I am not going to lie, Elias and Helene's wonderful friendship reminded me of the dynamic between Akiva and Liraz from Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. Physically and mentally, they resembled them both on an individual level and as a whole. Regardless, they were a statement of true friendship and my heart broke every time they were fighting.
The rest of the cast is very well developed, but I especially loved Elias' grandfather (the man knows how to handle his power), the friends of Elias and Helene (Tristas, Dex, Faris, Demetrius, Leander -- they were all amazing) and Kennan (hello there, cutie pie). Izzi, Cook and Taluman are also great. Also, the Augurs were awesome. Silent Brothers with a magical and mind-reading and a tendency for dark humor (I'm looking at you, Cain)? Sign me up for that anytime. I guess the Commandant should get some mention so here it goes -- that psycho bitch had me fuming. Stannis is an innocent baby compared to her parenting abilities.

“I don’t know what happened to you,” I say. “I don’t know who my father was or why you hate him so much. But I know my death won’t free you. It won’t give you peace. You’re not the one killing me. I chose to die. Because I’d rather die than become like you. I’d rather die than live with no mercy, no honor, no soul.”
The intrigue and the politics drive the story, leaving behind the romance aspect of the story, but for once I approve (it also happened in Heir of Fire). There actually is just a touch of romance to make your toes curl in anticipation and to split your heart in half because we're faced with a ruthless love square that is made up of two love triangles. A bit complicated, a bit dramatic, very well written, it was pretty much the icing on the cake. Some would say it's resolved by the end of this installment, but even if that is true, we're not left with a "couple" in its true meaning. I am quite curious if the pairing will indeed evolve to that status.
The story, the characters, the pace -- everything is perfect and I seriously wonder how the publisher thought it okay to keep this book a standalone? There are so many other things left unsaid, only a fraction of the story told in this installment, in spite of its overall complexity. An Ember in the Ashes has the potential to become a worldwide phenomenon with the upcoming movie, but the series has the potential to become a representative of a unique and daring wave of YA literature. This being said, the sequel cannot come fast enough!
“You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes.”
Bold, imaginative and incredibly thrilling, An Ember in the Ashes sets the bar up a notch with this vivid portrayal of duty versus free-will. This blend of Roman fantasy with just a touch of dystopian flavor (as it was for Red Queen) will make the readers devour every word, delighting in a gorgeously written story about freedom, destiny, betrayal and love. It's an instant favorite of mine and I hope that if you haven't read it yet, you will pick it up on the first occasion, because An Ember in the Ashes is worth every praise it got.

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