Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

20560137Under 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. (Synopsis from Goodreads.)

Rating: 8.5/10

Overall Impression: A great debut novel! Could not put it down.

Recommended for: Anyone into the YA fantasy and wants to read an exciting book by a talented new author.

This book was pretty great. I ended up reading the majority of it one day. I was seriously up until 6:00 a.m. reading this book. It’s well-written and the characters are interesting and fleshed out. I couldn’t help but immediately like Laia, a girl who has more courage than she believes she does and is immensely loyal to the ones she loves. She constantly sells herself short despite the fact that she is going through some horrible things in order to try and save her brother. Courage takes many forms, and it was great to see Laia learn this as the book went on.

Her resourcefulness makes is possible for her to survive in an environment that would beat most anyone else, and rather than cave under the pressure, she perseveres, consistently reminding herself that her brother needs her. In the beginning, she seems a bit helpless and lost, yet by the end, Laia becomes the hero that she never thought she could be. Laia’s struggle to rescue her brother as well as save those that have helped her along the way is admirable and compulsively readable.

Elais’s struggle to pretend that he is something he is not is often painful to read (in a good way). He is under the constant scrutiny of those around him, many of whom would turn him in as a traitor if they at all suspected his hatred for the Empire and who it has forced him to become. Elais carries the burden of compassion, one that often becomes an almost unbearable load as his fellow comrades, including his best friend, begin to question his loyalty. Add on top of that his conflicting romantic feelings, and Elias is a just a bundle of confusion and pain. And you really can’t help but love him.

On top of having characters that you love, this book has moments where you almost feel physically ill. There are scenes that are incredibly violent and psychologically disturbing. Not only do these characters go through physical trauma, but they are often subjected to emotional trauma as well. There was one scene that was so messed up that I about cried. So, that is my warning to you. If you are faint of heart and don’t handle violence very well, then I would steer clear of this one. There are parts that are hard read, and while I have read worse, I thought that this was pretty intense for YA.

In the end, this is a solid book that is nearly impossible to put down. So read when you have lots of time to spare. I highly recommend this book, and I don’t know if I can express how happy I am that there is going to be sequel! So excited!

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