An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the AshesAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
My rating: 5 of 5 teacups

“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.”

I think a lot of people will understand me when I say that the best kind of books are those that provoke strong emotions in you. My favourites are made up of books that filled me with happy excitement or, alternatively, books that ripped my heart out and made me cry. An Ember in the Ashes, however, made me angry. No, not angry – furious. I raged. I panicked. I hated. And damn, it was amazing.

You know those rare books that just make your heart pound? Those that take you so far out of the real world that you have to remind yourself afterwards that it’s all fiction, or else you won’t be sleeping? For me, this was one of those books. Everything about it was gripping, from the godawful but mesmerizing setting to those two bloody love triangles (love square?).

Yes, that’s right. I don’t even care that there were love triangles. That seems like too simplistic a term for this complex web of relationships, anyway. It isn’t about choosing between hot dude #1 and hot dude #2, there’s far bigger things at stake here and every character is so well-developed that you genuinely wonder and care what their fate will be.

This fast-paced story is told from two perspectives. Laia is one of the Scholars – now ruled over by the Martial Empire – many of whom are poor, illiterate and even enslaved. When her brother is arrested and presumably tortured by the Masks (masked soldiers), she seeks out the Resistance for help. However, they will not help her for free and demand that in return she must enter Blackcliff Military Academy as a slave in order to spy on the Commandant. Elias – the son of the Commandant – makes up the other perspective in this book.

Initially, I drew some comparisons between this and Legend, but though I liked the latter, I still don’t think it’s anywhere near as compelling, interesting, fast-paced or evil as this book. And despite the similar premise, this book branches off in many very different and exciting directions, including the arrival of creatures believed to only exist in myth.

I mentioned my fury before and I’m going to elaborate a bit. This book is nasty. This world is nasty. The Commandant is an evil hellbitch and complete sociopath. There’s torture, child abuse and the threat of rape (none of it is really graphic but it’s effective just the same). But it works. The stakes are higher; it made me actually afraid for Laia when she was sneaking about and spying on the Commandant. It’s hard to not grind your teeth at the unfairness and simultaneously feel powerless to stop it. It’s been a while since I’ve read such an evocative novel.

So, I enjoyed pretty much everything about this book. I liked the varied cast of characters and that Laia wasn’t a typical badass heroine but a scared girl going against her every instinct to save her brother. I loved the use of prophecies and the way Elias has to try and understand what they mean in order to do the right thing. I loved the Augurs – a bunch of hooded holy men who claim to deliver prophecies. Such a great read and I can see people eating it up and being desperate for more.

The book is rounded off well and is supposed to be a standalone, but there’s room for more here and I’d love to see the author revisit this story and these characters. *fingers crossed*

“Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after.”

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