An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
‘Game of Thrones fans will relish Tahir’s debut set in a brutal Rome-inspired empire. It follows Laia, a slave and Elias, a young soldier, whose lives are unexpectedly intertwined in this story of freedom, loyalty and love’ Independent ‘The writing is as smooth as silk and keeps one reading long after the lights should have been out’ Robin Hobb 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.
I decided not to purchase ‘An Ember in the Ashes’ as the synopsis was too similar to some books that I have read over the couple of years that I did not enjoy as much as I was under the impression I would and unfortunately, however hard I try I cannot read them all. I did however win ‘An Ember in the Ashes’ through a giveaway on twitter.
And am I glad I did…
Upon arrival the book is beautifully presented with a dazzling dustcover of black and shiny gold. With two silhouettes surrounded by flame, entering the light or escaping the dark. The title in gold is exquisite complimenting the alluring image. I am unsure whether this is the authors real name, but what a lovely name Sabaa Tahir is.
“This life is not always what we think it will be, 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.”
We first meet the male protagonist in the story Aspirant Elias Veturius who we learn is training at the military academy to become a mask. His mother is the commandant of Blackcliff and clearly has little if any maternal bond to her son. Elias does not agree with the mask regime and the lack of empathy and respect they show others. They keep scholars slaves which are abused and raped, whilst rule breaking is punished by death. Elias makes it clear from the start that he wishes to be no part of this cruel regime. He does however have friends, his best being the only female in the academy Helene, though she is a honest and loyal servant to the emperor. Elias has his fare share of obstacles preventing his escape, Marcus who is a thug and determined to ruin Elias. He reminds me of Draco Malfoy but meaner and more twisted, along with the cave dwelling Augurs who claim to know the future through extispicy and are able to read minds.
The female protagonist in the story is scholar Laia who is 17, her story starts with her family home being raided by the masks. Her Nan and Pop are brutally killed in front of her whilst her brother Darin is taken, aiding Laias escape, her house is also burnt down ensuring she has nothing left. Laia is a fugitive who we further learn has also lost her parents and sister in the past. Her brothers sketchbook is the reason for the raid as it is a valuable item containing detailed research and diagrams of weapons. Laia is found by the resistance, the people she wanted to find to help find her brother and set him free. Only there is an air of uncertainty when she meets resistance leader Mazen. His only offer of help to find and free her brother is in exchange for information, to be gained by a suicide mission spying on the commandant of Blackcliff.
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.
This is a book you will not want to put down, I could not and devoured it within 24 hours. It is not entirely what I expected even from the synopsis and the beautiful cover, but somewhat overwhelmingly better. It is a story that flows with simplicity, but dives to such complex depths when confronting emotions of fear, trauma, loss, abuse and love. The characters are so striking, you cannot help but feel their pain and empathise with them, reminiscent of Vin and Elend Venture from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series.
A stunning rollercoaster of emotion, Sabaa you officially have another Emberling.
An Ember in the Ashes. Published by Harper Voyager
A bit about the author: Sabaa grew up in California’s Mojave Desert at her family’s eighteen-room motel. There, she spent her time devouring fantasy novels, raiding her brother’s comic book stash, and playing guitar badly. She began writing An Ember in the Ashes while working nights as a newspaper editor. She likes thunderous indie rock, garish socks, and all things nerd.