Series: An Ember in the Ashes, #1
Published by Razorbill
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 Hardcover edition.
I anticipated not liking this book. I’ve been let down by highly rated books before, which is also why I forced myself to buy the paperback and bring it to the beach on my vacation. Needless to say, this book was fantastic. Well written, well-developed characters and just about every page, every sentence, every word I loved. I sat on the beach from 7AM to 4PM and I could not get enough of this story.
Tahir has built a captivating, harsh, and at times horrific world. Violence, child abuse, and the threat of rape make this brutal world hard to stomach at times. Yet I never had time picturing the world I was in while reading and that is a huge thing for me. Tahir clearly spent a great deal of time and care developing this world and shows in the simplest of ways.
The characters were really well-rounded and developed. This is something I don’t find all too often. Laia and Elias were both incredibly strong characters, each driven by their own agenda but also served as a great mirror for how this story unfolds. Told in alternating points of view, Elias’ chapters are often the most action packed while Laia’s have the most character development. The secondary characters are just as strong. I loved scenes involving Helene, the Augurs, Cook and Izzi. The villainous Commandant was effective and I hope to see more of her in the future books (looks like a four book series!). There wasn’t a character that I didn’t want to learn more about!
I’m usually not so favorable towards books that are also romance centered and this book had two love triangles. The relationships and friendships are well-developed that the romance doesn’t become a burden within the story. The only piece I wasn’t a fan of was the View Spoiler »Keenan/Lila angle, but only because Keenan was a minor character that felt a little under developed. « Hide Spoiler. The relationships enhanced the plot of the story, and will propel the next book as well (View Spoiler »mostly for Elias and Helene, I suspect « Hide Spoiler). So don’t be deterred by the “love triangle” business – it really doesn’t overly burden the story away from the action and character development.
Overall this book gets a 4.5 star rating in every category for me, and I highly recommend it to all fantasy lovers in search of a well written, well developed debut series!