Book: An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
My Rating: 3.75/5 (can I do quarter stars??)
Summary: (from Goodreads)
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.
I did this book as a buddy read with a really fun book club and really enjoyed it! I don’t really know why I hadn’t picked it up before now since it’s right up my ally, but I’m glad I did now – and just in time for the 3rd book to come out later this year. However, I did have some complaints with it.
WHAT I LOVED:
- GIRL POWER. Laia, her mom, Helene, the Commandant, even Izzy. This book is full of strong, independent women stepping up and doing what needs to be done (even if that’s something evil – looking at you, Commandant). I particularly loved Helene’s character, and am hoping we get some chapters from her POV next book.
- The evil vibe. While other YA fantasy books kind of dance around how ugly things can really get, An Ember in the Ashes does not shy away. The Trials, the Commandant, the punishments at the school. This book is vicious, brutal, and in your face. Speaking of the Commandant: GIVE ME MORE. I need to know more about this lady, and why she’s so evil. This is one of my complaints about the book, BUT since there are more books to come I’m not putting it in the negative section and giving her character the chance to be fleshed out.
WHAT I DIDN’T:
- I’ll be honest, while this book did definitely entertain me and having Laia become a slave to spy for the resistance was a nice spin, I’ve read this story before. In every YA dystopian/fantasy novel ever. This book felt like TOG, Red Queen, and even a little Hunger Games all mushed together.
-Elias. For someone who was raised as a warrior from the age of 6 in the most brutal upbringing imaginable, he is way to angsty for my taste. Even Laia stepped up and had more backbone than this guy, and she literally has no idea how to defend herself.
- The rape culture. Listen guys. If this is a trigger for you, do not read this book. I get that everything in this book is harsh and violent and takes everything to the extremes. But rape is mentioned and talked about in such a casual way throughout the entirety of this book – it’s talked about more casually than the whippings, than the disfigurement of the slaves. It is essentially just glossed over and used as a way to advance the plot. Beware.
- The love triangles. Again, another must-have for any YA dystopian/fantasy cookie-cutter plot. But…two? Did we really need two? Also, Keenan…do you even offer anything of consequence to this story?
All in all, I did enjoy reading this book and will be reading the second one, but I felt like it didn’t live up to the hype.