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. – Goodreads
Before you groan and go, “Ohhhh, not another glowing review of this ridiculously hyped book!” I would like to say one thing: stop. Stop and listen. I am not a fan of hype, in fact, it’s a total turn-off for me, kind of like smoking cigarettes or handlebar mustaches or shaved chests.
I read a sample back in March and raved about it. In fact, I decided that samples are the meanest things that an author can do—really, Tahir? You’re going to write a badass opening and leave me with the worst cliffhanger ever? Thanks a lot. Smart, though, because I ended up forking over the $10 to buy it on my Kindle without hesitation.
For one, I love the writing. It’s descriptive, it’s graphic, it’s so, so dark. In fact, the entire world is dark—they’re not kidding in the description when they say it’s a “brutal world”.
The worldbuilding is amazing. When you read this, you’re there. You can picture the rooms, the castle, the darkness of the city. I felt like I was holding my breath during this entire book because I felt like I was THERE. The storyline is intense, too, and never slow.
The Commandant is a total B, and Laia is her slave. Now, normally when you think of a commander or a queen or whatever and they’re Bs, it’s because they say mean things or slap their maids. No, the Commandant GOUGED OUT the eyeball of a five-year-old girl and CARVED her initial into Laia’s chest, just because she didn’t do something to the Commandant’s standard. She isn’t kidding around. She’s killed slaves for less.
The romance was confusing—I really didn’t know who liked who and what was going to happen. I finished the book and still don’t. I was (and still am) worried about the possibility of a love triangle…or love square? But really, survival was more important than boyfriends, so that was nice.
Laia is a refreshing character. She’s not a long lost princess, she’s not some badass strong ladyboss—in fact, she’s very honest that she’s weak and not courageous. She’s a slave. This left much room for character development over the course of the story.
I also liked Elias, who hates his mother, hates his upbringing, hates the person he has become. He is very much at war with who he is and who he wants to be.
The point of view alternates between Laia and Elias, which I actually liked. It gave a unique view at both sides of the coin—the oppressed Scholars and the brutal Martials.
For a YA novel, it was dark. There are many mentions of rape and brutal torture and killing, so I would recommend this for those 15 and up—definitely not young kid material.
The ending was left on a big cliffhanger, so I can only assume there is going to be a second book. If there’s not, I will be very, very sad.
I rated An Ember In The Ashes a 5/5 and added it to my favorites list. Fantastic read that did NOT last long enough!