Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Published by: April 28, 2015
Publication date: Razorbill
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Romance
Summary from Goodreads:
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.
“This life is not always what we think it will be,” Cain says. “You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”
“You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes. That is your destiny.”
I was really looking forward to this book, and I wasn’t disappointed (much). It’s been on my reading list since the beginning of the year after it was already getting media buzz. Paramount has also already bought the movie rights. So, I wanted to discover what the hubbub was all about. An Ember in the Ashes is gripping while being surprisingly slow-paced. I guess there hasn’t been word of a sequel to the book yet. If it’s a stand-alone, readers will be sorely disappointed. If it becomes a series, Ember… is one thrilling launching pad to the story. It was one of those books I couldn’t put down. I stayed up way to late to finish it. I have few complaints, except for a complicated love quadrangle? I get tired just thinking about it… The Martial Empire is a dark place—threat of death, rape, and severe beatings are real, which makes the story that more urgent and compelling. When Laia is sneaking around Blackcliff Military Academy, I was continually gripped with horror at the consequences if she is caught. Neither of our main characters walk away unscathed. I liked both characters, but I particularly enjoyed Laia’s development. She comes into herself towards the end of the book, gaining confidence and control over her desires.
They’re from different social worlds, but Elias and Laia both long for their freedom. Elias wants to escape his future of dealing death and swearing fealty to an unjust Empire. Laia wants freedom for her imprisoned brother. Their journeys are wrought with difficulties and they will be tested to their breaking points, but through each other they might find deliverance.
Would I let my teen read this book?
Some of the themes of this book reminded me of Hunger Games—war and rebellion and fighting to the death. Martial Empire is worse than the Capital though. Children are beaten in the military academy, and the Masks (who graduate from the academy) are expected to rape and kill without remorse. Though you feel this threat, especially for the women of this story, there is no graphic sexual violence. The Commandant is a cold, frightening character that dishes much of the abuse. She’s ruthless, tyrant of the academy.
There are some sexual references, but no sex scenes. There are two kissing scenes with some mention of longing, but are relatively short. The soldiers especially talk about sleeping with women and whores. And several times Elias thinks about his love interests without clothing and in intimate embraces.
Magic also has a part in this story, which plays out as devilry and is associated with dark figures.
An Ember in the Ashes is a more mature young adult book. I’d save this one until high school, at least. I wouldn’t recommend it for kids younger than 14.
Age recommendation: 16
Language— No common swearing
Drugs & Alcohol-- References to getting drunk
Sex--2 kissing scenes; Women slaves are treated as property to be used; Whore is regularly mentioned, along with references to the brothel; References to the soldiers having multiple sexual affairs. Laia is threatened with rape twice
Violence--Sword and hand-to-hand combat; Character’s are stabbed in battle; Throats are slit; A ten-year-old boy is whipped to death for deserting; Commandant physically maims slaves as punishments; Laia is nearly beaten to death
My Goodreads rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Buy: An Ember in the Ashes on Amazon.com
I read a lot. I'm a Mom. I'm officially in my 30s, but strangers often don't believe I'm old enough to drink. I love Young Adult fiction, and thought it was worthwhile to help teens and adults find age-appropriate options.