Fantasy, High Fantasy
An Ember in the Ashes, Book # 1
April 28 2015
March 12, 2020 March 17, 2020
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.
About the book
An Ember in the Ashes is the first book in Sabaa Tahir’s quadrilogy with the same title. We are in a fantasy world where the Empire conquered and subdued the Scholars, people who were once very educated, but who are now forbidden from learning to read. Among these is our protagonist Laia (whom I called Laila until the middle of the book…) who lives with her grandparents and her older brother. One night she discovers her brother coming home late and asks for explanations. In fact, she discovered one of his drawings on which weapons of a place forbidden to him are represented. Shortly after, a Mask, soldiers of the empire with their faces covered, enters the house and kills the grandparents and arrest the brother. Laia manages to escape also thanks to the mask that tells her to run away.
Laia knows about the Resistance, a group of rebels who oppose the regime and search for them to help her free her brother because it is their fault if her brother has been found. And from here begins her adventure in the academy of Blackcliff where masks are trained. In fact, the leader of the rebels, after discovering that she is the daughter of their old leaders, decides to help her, but first she has to go on a mission to spy on the Commandant.
On the other hand we have Elias, a boy who is about to graduate from the academy, but who wants freedom. He would like to desert but the Augurs, mysterious figures who foresee the future and can read minds, tell him that if he runs away he will never be free, if he remains he will find both the freedom of the body and that of the soul. And it is always at the academy that he will meet the slave Laia who will lead him to wonder if what the Empire does is right.
I really like the style of the author, the chapters are short and she uses two points of view alternating Laia and Elias. The structure of the sentence is linear without too many turns of words.
Laia is 17 years old, a Scholar girl who is willing to do anything to free her brother. She has a good character and believes that she is not as courageous as her mother, a former terrorist rebel leader, which is why her brother was captured. We mostly see her as a slave in Blackcliff, but she also has contacts with the outside world because she has to pass the information on to the rebels. Here she has contact with Keenan who could be said to be a love interest but they have less chemistry than a pole and a broom. I hope that her gentle but at the same time strong soul will not be ruined in the second book. Also I like the relationship with the other slave, Izzi, who remains a beautiful friendship until the end.
Elias, 20, is about to graduate. He is the best of the last year at the military academy and for this he is chosen for the Selections, 4 tests to find the new emperor, all foreseen by the Augurus. Her best friend is Helene who is secretly in love with him and she is also chosen for the selections. Elias is the son of the Commandant, supreme head of the academy but until the end it is not known why his mother abandoned him (or hates him). And no one knows who the father is.
Helene, the only woman in the academy, if you don’t count the Commandant, is also 20 years old and has spent all her childhood and adolescence becoming a mask. Although the Empire is the enemy, the one who must be destroyed, I like her loyalty to the empire but above all her loyalty to Elias. Even though Elias has become the enemy since he wants to leave the academy, she helps him and perhaps she is the only one who understands him.
These are other characters, too many but the most important ones are the Commandant, of course, who is a woman hardened by her role, Marcus and Zak, two twin brothers who also participate in the selections and Marcus is a bit the antagonist to Elias. And Cain who is the Augur who “helps” Elias to understand what he wants from life and who plays a main role in the story that connects Elias, Laia and Helene.
What I think
I liked the book. At one point I was afraid that it was a disappointing but it immediately recovered in the next chapter. I will certainly read the sequel even if I will not buy it because Nord, the Italian publishing house of the book, did not continue with the hardcover series and I go crazy when the books in a series are different. Yes I am OCD when it comes to books. So I will borrow them from the library.