Author: Sabaa Tahir
Series: An Ember in the Ashes
Standing: Book 1
POV: 1st person by Laia and Ellias, present tense
Setting: The Empire (fictional world)
Genre: YA fantasy
Source: Physical copy
Release: April 28th, 2015
Favourite line: "There is perfection in a fight like this. My scim is an extension of my body, moving so swiftly that it might be its own master. The battle is a dance, one I know so well I barely have to think."
Rating: 5 Stars
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 think I've been destroyed by this book. Destroyed. Because everything was beautiful, from the lush writing to the incredible characters to the world to the plot that left me reeling.
Laia is a Scholar, a race of people who have been enslaved by the Marital Empire. But when Laia's brother, Darin, is pronounced a traitor and dragged away, Laia seeks help from a secret group of rebels and agrees to infiltrate Blackcliff, the Empire's greatest military camp, in exchange for them setting her brother free. Though she's haunted by the fact that she ran while her brother was taken, she ultimately begins her journey to find her own strength, her own voice. Her character arc was perfect, going from a helpless girl with a guilty conscience, to an obedient slave with hopes of having her brother freed by others, to becoming an agent of events, proactively trusting and relying on herself to get things done. She learns both to rely on specific people and to rely on herself, to find that some people aren't worth trusting, nor will they ever be. Amazing.
Elias is Blackcliff's best soldier. Most skilled in combat, most ruthless. But he's also the most reluctant, and wants nothing more than to be freed from the terrible life he's been training for. His plan to desert go awry when a revelation shatters his world, and he's forced to stay and decide how far he'll go to be truly free from the Empire. He is faced with the decision of leaving the Empire to its ruins, or fighting against it in hopes to make it a better place. Added to his character is the element of guilt, which emphasizes Elias' good heart, of how he hates killing others. Facing his guilt and increasing number of kills is no easy feat, nor has he completely conquered it. He sees himself as a monster, a murderer, a being without a soul. But, as Elias learns...
"There are two kinds of guilt. 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 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..."
The plot itself was nothing like I thought it would be. Once the overall plot began rolling, I was shocked. Everything was far from being predictable. There are new revelations left and right, with both Laia and Elias constantly adjusting their thoughts and opinions of people or events as new information comes to light. I was left speechless time and time again. So many unexpected elements and events! I'm very tempted to say that this book is one plot twist after another.
MY FEELS. I'm just going to say that the Third Trial left me traumatized. Traumatized. There's no way anyone would walk away from that unscathed, readers included. The author did a phenomenal job at making my heart bleed in disbelief, horror, and overall fear for the characters throughout the entire book. I was scared senseless for Laia, Elias, and Helene. All that was going through my head was, "This isn't going to end well." And I had a very good reason to think so. But the wisdom that the characters gain...it's just breathtakingly beautiful. For example...
|"There's hope in life."|
"Fear is only your enemy if you allow it to be."
All in all, this was an excellent novel that met and exceeded my expectations. The feelings I felt while reading this book were very real, as was the devastation of some plot twists. The pacing was excellent, switching between anxiety and desperation for Laia and reluctance and questioning for Elias, both which complimented each other perfectly. Though I was originally concerned that there would be no relevant fantasy element, I was not disappointed, and I have a feeling that it will be explored even furthered in the next book, which comes out sometime next April, 2016 (why???). I absolutely cannot recommend this book enough! Words will not do it justice, so save me the time and just go read it yourself! You'll understand what I mean!
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go curl up into a ball and cry for the characters and for the beauty of this world.