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#Fantasy Friday #An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes Book 1) by Sabaa Tahir #YA Fantasy #20booksofsummer21

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.

( From the book blurb)

Publisher: Razorbill

Publication Date:February 9th, 2016

Other Titles in the Series (tetralogy):

Book 2 A Torch Against the Night
Book3 A Reaper at the gates
Book 4 A Sky Beond the Storm

My thoughts:

As usual, I completely missed all the hype and just got to reading this series. To be honest, I didn’t have any expectations and was pleasantly surprised by how easy to read and how engaging the book is. Earlier this year I reviewed another YA release compared to An Ember in the Ashes, which I did struggle with, but this one kept my attention all way through, despite being on the lengthy side (446pages!).

The best things about the book:

-the world-building;
-the characters;
-the sense of adventure;
-the pace;

…and some things I wasn’t particularly sure about…
-first person present tense narrative – it does create a sense of immediacy of the events and action, but not everybody is a fan of this type of writing;

-I would have prefered a bit more depth to the villain characters.

What is it all about:

Laia and Darin’s family are Scholars, an oppressed group of people conquered by the Martial Empire (inspired by Ancient Rome). Scholars are free, but there are countless restrictions on what they can and cannot do, one of them being forbidden to read. A slightest misdimeanor or disobedience leads to death, enslavement or being sent to the Kauf prison, where the inmates are subjected to all kinds of horrible torture. Laia’s parents, members of the Resistance movement, were captured and killed together with Laia’s older sister. Laia and Darin live with grandfather-Healer and grandmother. One look at Darin’s sketchbook filled with all sorts of secret drawings and Laia knows they are in trouble. The Martial Patrol kills their grandparents and takes away Darin who is to be interrogated, tortured and executed. Laia manages to escape, but her only hope is to find the Resistance and beg for their help. In exchange for this, she agrees to infiltrate Blackcliff, the military school where the Empire’s elite soldiers -Masks- are trained. Laia is asked to pretend to be a slave and spy on the the School Commandant in order to glean any information she can about the upcoming Trials for the future Emperor, who is to be chosen among the most recent graduates.

The narrative switches between Laia and Elias, one of the Mask cadets, who abhors the brutality and violence of the Martial army. All he seeks is to be free from this horrendous lifestyle, but the Augurs prophesize his way to real freedom of body and soul lies through participating in the Trials. The plot is action-packed and there’s never a dull moment in this steady-paced story. Once you find out about the Augurs’ abilities and realise the creatures Laia sees in her moments of despair aren’t hallucinations, you understand that there’s a lot more to this world and this story and it is indeed a fantasy book.

Both of our protagonists are extemely compelling. Laia keeps seeing herself as somebody weak, not deserving the legacy of her fearless parents. She is smart and determined to do anything to save her brother, despite her fear and ‘lack of strength’. Elias …is loyal, kind, honest with himself and the others, he is a kind of person who isn’t afraid to stand up for those who are weaker or less privileged. His family background adds to the complexity of his feelings and his desires. There’s a large cast of well-written and well-defined secondary characters, including Helene Aquilla, Elias’s best friend and the only female Mask cadet in Blackcliff. I would have prefered to know more about the main villain’s history and motivations- I guess it will all become clearer in the next book.

I hope the rest of the series is going to be as enjoyable as this first book which was both original and gripping. Looking forward to reading the second part, A Torch in the Night!

An Ember in the Ashes was book#5 from my Twenty Books of Summer list.

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