An Ember in the Ashes is the first of a new series by Sabaa Tahir. It has elements of fantasy mixed with inspiration from ancient Rome.
Laia is a Scholar, a group of people that have spent the last 500 years subjected to Martial law. Having lost her parents and older sister years ago, she lives with her grandparents and brother, Darin, in the city of Serra. Laia distastes the Martials, but she lives her life without incident – until the day her brother returns after curfew, which is followed quickly by a raid. Darin is accused of treason and imprisoned, their grandparents killed, and Laia is now on the run.
In order to free her brother, Laia seeks the Resistance, a group of people who want to end the rule of the Martial Empire. In exchange for their help in rescuing Darin, Laia agrees to spy on the Commandant of Blackcliff, the famous Martial military school located just outside Serra.
At Blackcliff Laia meets Elias Veturius, the heir to Gens Veturia, the son of Blackcliff’s Commandant, and the top student of the school. Though Elias’ legacy and upbringing indicates he is a heartless, ruthless killer, he is far from heartless. Elias is efficient at being a soldier and warrior, but he distastes the Martial way of life and treatment of Scholars. All he really wants is to be free of his life at Blackcliff, his life as a Mask.
When Laia meets Elias, she discovers that not all Martials are as ruthless as she has come to expect. He becomes one few people other than her family Laia starts to care about – and the only person who continuously keeps her alive at Blackcliff. Soon, the pair must rely on each other in order to not only survive but escape Blackcliff with their humanity intact.
When I first began An Ember in the Ashes, I wasn’t entirely sure I would enjoy it. At first glance, the novel is written in first person – alternating between Laia and Elias’ point of views – and mostly takes on a present tense perspective. Neither style of writing is my preference in stories. But as I began to read the story, I found that the writing style is well suited to this story as we delve into the thoughts and feelings of both the main characters.
Both Laia and Elias, despite their different upbringings, are very similar creatures. They are both conflicted about who they are; Laia wants to be strong and independent like her legendary mother, while Elias is tormented between being the soldier he was raised to be and following his morality. They both grow to become the person they wanted to be – or at least are on the pathway.
I really enjoyed this novel and can’t wait to read the sequel. Not too long ago it was announced that more books would be added to the series; I’m excited to see what happens to Laia and Elias.
My rating: 4.5/5