Review: An Ember in the Ashes-Sabaa Tahir

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Created of sinless, smokeless fire. They rode the winds and read the stars, and their beauty was the beauty of wild places.

***

‘There are two kinds of guilt,’ I say softly. ‘The kind that’s a burden and the kind that gives you purpose. Let your guilt be your fuel. Let it remind you of who you want to be. Draw a line in your mind. Never cross it again. You have a soul. It’s damaged, but it’s there. Don’t let them take it from you, Elias.’

***

‘Fear can be good, Laia. It can keep you alive. But don’t let it control you. Don’t let it sow doubts within you. When the fear takes over, use the only thing more powerful, more indestructible, to fight it: your spirit. Your heart.’

cooltext1889161239 copyLaia 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.

cooltext1889171582 copy3.5/5 Stars

+++Contains triggers: Graphic violence, abuse.

An Ember in the Ashes is a dark and brilliant tale of passion and perseverance. An intricate world of military aggression, scholarly downfall, and rebellion mixed with creatures of legend, there’s something for everyone. 

PROS:

  • The Masks and the Commandant are sadistic, despicable entities. They torture and revel in pain. Some parts are extremely graphic and gruesome. Blood and gore, danger, fear are all heady and dizzying realities. The slaves live in a perpetual state of uncertainty and hopelessness. The military state is oppressive and violent. They take and deal out pain on whim and don’t flinch when taking lives. People are worthless to them, especially Scholars. They’re to be used and discarded without thought. 
  • The An Ember in the Ashes world is complex and gritty. Torn between duty and survival, characters vary between brainwashed to vigilante. The life of a slave girl is worlds away from the grueling trials Masks suffer, and yet none have freedom, none have escaped pain, torment, and loss. Everyone has the weight of the Empire on their soul. 
  • Magic and mystery add another dimension to the plot. The Augers, the startling truth of the Scholar downfall, and the resurgence of mystical creatures adds a smoky, sinister mood to the story, one that brings foreboding, mischief, and dire circumstances. The creatures in the Trials are beings of myth and fairy tales. It’s kind of ironic that in order to prevail, the Masks, who have discarded the Tribal folks and the Scholars must rely on the swirling words of legend to survive. 
  • Laia is a frightened little bird who shoulders the greatness of her parents without hope of ever living up to their bravery. Laia doubts herself. Living in the shadows of her parents memory, the prowess of her brother, and the gentle hands of her grandparents, Laia can’t fathom coming close to their courage. They’d risked everything, suffered months of torture for a cause that Laia in unworthy (in her eyes) to be a part of. Laia has never had to make life or death decisions and when it counts, her failure cripples her. Laia grows and learns that she is enough. Listening to her brother’s voice in her head, Laia finds the fire within herself to fight, to sacrifice, and to risk, consequences be damned. Laia’s bravery is long coming and fierce. She prevails where others cannot. 
  • Elias hates his life. He’s too aware of the injustices of the Masks and the whole Empire. He can’t live with the notion of hurting others, of being so careless with lives just because he’s skilled with a sword. All Elias wants is to escape his heritage and his fate but his choices are robbed from him. Elias feels lost and lonely. His soul is in jeopardy. Elias is powerful, sexy, and compassionate. Where others resign themselves to the cruelty of the world, Elias interferes. He loves and he hurts along with those who suffer. His heart, his ability to feel so deeply are his burden to bear. 
  • The romance is compelling, eye-opening, and raw. Each pairing has something tragic and beautiful about it. The heat is slow simmering, bold and honest. 

CONS:

  • After the initial brutally graphic and horrific raid scene, the story takes a while to pick up. The danger is hot and heavy, but some scenes, particularly Elias’ parts at Blackcliff were hard to get through. 
  • Laia’s trust in the Rebellion group is hard to understand. It’s dire and out of necessity, however, she barely questions and puts faith in the very group that got her family slaughtered. Furthermore, when things start to get extremely suspicious, she brushes it off, only half-heartedly asking questions once or twice. Laia is hardly a pushover, she grows exponentially throughout the story, she’s insanely brave and yet, when it comes down to asking the hard questions, she’s a little oblivious and cowardly. 
  • Big, intense truths were revealed one after the other near the end of the story. On top of the precarious situations and adrenaline rush of the trials, these snippets of story are sucker punches. They hit hard and are a bit overwhelming. The shock is there, full throttle.

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