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.
A lot of people really enjoyed this book, so I had to buy it the moment I could! The book was thoroughly enjoyable, but there were still problems I had with it. It definitely wasn’t perfect, but it was a worthwhile read that kept me reading until 2 am in the morning. On a Monday. During a school week. Yeah, not the greatest idea. But it just sucked me in so much. In today’s review we’re starting with a rant on what bothered me a lot in the book and ending it with why you should read it.
The rant is a tad spoiler-y, so skip ahead if you’re not big about the main characters getting yelled at.
The story is told from Laia and Elias’ points of view. It’s always one after the other and in first person POV, so you get used to it pretty quickly. The characters were dynamic and three-dimensional. But that doesn’t mean I like them. Between a complaining girl and a horny guy, who’s there to like, to be honest? In the first half, almost every single chapter of Laia was self-pity and pessimism.
“I know I’m not like her, I want to say. I cried and cringed instead of standing and fighting. I abandoned Darin instead of dying for him. I’m weak in a way she never was.”
In the first couple chapters of the book, it’s ok! I get you, Laia, totally. You’re a weak character, but that’s okay because you need to grow and bloom! Get’em, tiger!
BUT SHE DOESN’T. Until waaaaaaaay later in the book. At a point where I don’t even care anymore. Would YOU like it if every other chapter is,
“They’ll want me to be fearless and charismatic, like Mother. They’ll want me to be brilliant and serene, like Father.
But I’m not like any of those things.”
Like I said, I totally get it in the beginning. NOT when this is the fourth time you’ve said this??? Stop pitying yourself and whining and complaining and moaning and STOP.
Moving on to Elias, who I thought would be killer. He’s literally number one at the academy, so you would expect him to be pretty dominant and chilling, right? No, not really. He’s more of a sex-drived and foolish boy. Even though he’s about 20. Not to be mean or anything, but if Laia is complaining every other chapter, then Elias is focusing too much on girls every chapter. There is a weird, complicated love triangle relationship going on here. Four people are involved, of which two are the main characters. No to the no thank you.
Anyways, Elias really doesn’t like what the Martial Empire is doing. He’s against it, he’s against the Commandant, he just wants OUT. Unfortunately for him, he’s also a participant in the competition to become the next Emperor of the place he’s trying to run away from. Whoop de doo. So Elias has to figure out how to make this a win-win situation, while Laia is spying behind the scenes for the Resistance, who claim they can save her brother. What in the world is going to happen? I’ll tell you – Laia and Elias are going to meet and a SPARK is going to ignite between them.
“Instead, I’m faced with a slave girl looking up at me through impossible long eyelashes. A heated, visceral shock flares through me at the clarity of her dark gold eyes. For a second, I forget my name.”
HA. HAHAH. What is this called again? Like, this is instant! Such attraction?!??// Is this lust? Is this love? No matter, there’s a name for this! ‘Twas in my mind, but now ’tis escaped me!! OH – could it be: insta-lust? Instalove? Which is it?
I don’t care. Take this shit away from me. Oh, and while you’re at it, bring this too:
“I realize I can feel the heat of her body, that mere inches separate our faces. She has beautiful lips, I notice distractedly, the top one fuller than the bottom. I meet her gaze for one intimate, infinite moment.”
This is towards another girl, too. Wowzers, what a lady’s man. Oh but Laia was no better, too, with the feelings she had for her two guys. I just feel like these reactions and emotions could have been done way more subtly. I don’t need repeated mentionings of a characers’ deep eyes or slim bodies or pretty lips to know that someone’s attracted to them.
<<End rant on the weird romantic entanglements going on and Laia being annoying>>
So here’s where I get to the good part: Why you should read the book.
I know I complained about the characters, but the fact doesn’t change that Sabaa Tahir is really good at making them so empathetic. I don’t appreciate Laia reminding me that she’s not as good as her parents or siblings, but it has the desired effect: I can feel her hopelessness and understand her thinking she has no power. And while I was tired when she was doing the same thing 100 pages into the book, towards the end she done good. Meaning, Laia lived up to my expectations and planned something stellar to end the book with.
Elias also grew as a character, and started learning more about his inner feelings and his friend Helena throughout the competition to become emperor of Martial. Yes, there were many parts in the book where I grew exasperated with his conflicted feelings. But it only goes to show how real of a character he is, and how relatable (to some people?) he can be. Just not relatable to me. Just totally annoying and quite unattractive to me.
As for the world-building and setting – it was on-point. Dedicated and sagacious Scholars get conquered by the more aggressive and war-like Martials? Sounds legit, and it’s quite realistic too, if you think about it. I had no qualms with the cruel and dictating government and the Resistance. The Resistance are rebel Scholars who have hidden goals of their own, and they were definitely an interesting bunch that I would have liked to have seen expanded on.
Finally, a lot of what happens in the book lies in the hands of fate and destiny. It was Elias’ destiny to be one of the four students to fight to become emperor, and the way the author incorporated it into the story was highly intriguing. The only thing I can’t believe is that this is a stand-alone novel. The ending is perfect for setting another book up. PERFECT.
I came for the hype, I stayed for the awesome world and plot, and I got pretty pissed at the characters in between all of that. Don’t let that rant in the beginning fool you though – this book was good enough that I stayed up until 2 am reading it.