Author: Sabaa Tahir
Series: An Ember in the Ashes #1
Release Date: April 2015
Rating: 4 1/2 Stars
Reviewer: Jessica Higgins
Following in the footsteps of The Hunger Games and Divergent, An Ember in the Ashes is full of interesting twists and turns throughout.
Set in a rich, fantasy world that resembles ancient Rome, we see a story of a slave fighting for her family and a young soldier fighting for his freedom. They live under the Martial Empire. The only punishment for defiance is death, but not necessarily you own physical death. If you do not swear loyalty to the Emperor, you can risk your execution or the execution of your loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear. Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. Her parents and sister were captured and killed long ago. She doesn’t challenge the empire and believes no one else around her would dare to either. But when her brother is arrested for treason, she is forced to turn to the rebels who promise to rescue her brother if she will risk her life to spy for them at the Empire’s greatest military academy. This is where she becomes a slave for the commandant of the school.
At the school she meets Elias, the best and brightest soldier at the school. He is also the one that wants nothing more than to get out. He has trained to enforce the tyranny of the school and empire and despises himself for having stayed as long as he has. When Laia arrives, they feel an immediate attraction to each other and quickly realize that in order to achieve their goals they are going to have to rely on one another. With their destinies intertwined, they hope to be able to make a difference and change the fate of the empire itself.
It seems that lately there is such a push for the next best dystopian YA novel out there after the amazing success of The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and Divergent. An Ember in the Ashes is going to fit into that category for some but might be a turn off for some for a few reasons. The world building and character development were very well developed, especially for a debut novel. Laia could seem weak at first, she runs when they are being attacked instead of helping her brother but if she had stayed she very well may have been killed. By running she feels weak but she ends up putting up with so much during her attempts to help the rebels so they will help her get her brother to safety. She is actually a very strong character even if she doesn’t think so. Elias and his relationship with pretty much everyone is complicated, especially his mother. He wants to be good and he wants to be free. Just as he thinks he is about to accomplish that goal his world is turned upside down and he feels that freedom slipping away.
The negative aspects for me would be the use of language and sex. It is not horrible and could be much worse by far. But for a YA that is marketed for possible tweens I have a problem with that. The language did not get as offensive as it could have, that would have really turned me off. Sex is an underlying tone, especially the fact that the boys can easily rape the slaves and beat them with no consequences. The beatings and torture can be gruesome but pass quickly.
Even though there were a few negative aspects it is still an incredible well-written story with a lot to offer. It didn’t take me long to fly through the story. The beginning set up takes just a bit to pull you in but the back and forth between the main characters helps give an understanding of what is going on. It also gets a little frustrating at times because just when something really interesting is going on with one of the characters it switchers to the other and you have to wait to find out what is happening with them. A good way to keep you turning the page though.