|Title: An Ember in the Ashes|
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Published: April 28, 2015 by Razorbill (Penguin Group)
Narrator: Fiona Hardingham and Steve West
(Amazon / Goodreads / Audible)
Synopsis: AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is a thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and pulse-pounding read. Set in a rich, high-fantasy world with echoes of ancient Rome, it tells the story of a slave fighting for her family and a young soldier fighting for his freedom.
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.
An Ember in the Ashes was one of my most anticipated debuts of 2015. I've heard amazing reviews and the synopsis struck me almost immediately as a total "me book." So I snagged a pre-order and started reading the e-book. Then on Twitter I saw Brittany from The Book Addicts Guide and Katie from Polished Page talking about the audiobook and how much they enjoy the narrators. I had previously considered getting it on audio so I quickly switched formats. I'm glad I did because it was a perfect audiobook. Fast-paced, action-packed, a thrilling world, and characters you easily connect with. The narrators did a fantastic job creating an atmospheric and engaging read. If you like audiobooks and are considering reading this book, I definitely recommend that format. But what about the book as a whole?
Well for one thing I really liked the characters in An Ember in the Ashes but I didn't totally love the character arcs for some of them. If you follow me on Goodreads you may have noticed that most of my status updates about this book were about the characters. They are one of the things that made the book so enjoyable and as they changed so did my feelings about the book. Our two main characters are Laia and Elias. They come from different backgrounds but they are incredibly alike. Both are determined and strong. Laia has this amazing inner strength and refuses to give up in the face of tremendous adversity. She however had this amazing character development starting as not only a terrible spy but an unwilling one and becoming so tough. Elias however starts as tough on the outside but vulnerable. In a morally corrupt world Elias has honor and compassion. My only problem was with his character development. He started off in such an amazing place but throughout the book he does some things that make him much more odious. Usually I enjoy that but here it kind of made him unlikable at a time where he needed to be the most likable. But that being said both characters felt incredibly realistic and relateable, which is always what I like to see.
But the book was also full of amazing secondary characters. First and foremost, the books antagonist, the Commandant. I have seen some nasty villains in my day but she makes them look practically huggable. She is cold and calculating with what I can only assume is a black hole where her heart used to be. But I love a good villain to hate and she afforded me that in spades. Then there is Helene, Elias' best friend. She is an incredibly complex and well-rounded character with a really amazing character ARC. And Laia's chapters are populated by a host of interesting characters both from the Resistance and the servants at Blackcliffe. Speaking of these secondary characters, I do want to mention that there was a pretty heavy love triangle here and some insta-love especially from Laia's side of things. I'm not opposed to love-triangles but it definitely complicated the story in a way it didn't need to. I felt the uncertainty from the characters and it made me keep the romance at arms length so I never really connected with it.
And because violence is a huge part of the world, it also a huge part of the plot. This book is definitely not for the faint of heart. There is a really serious body count here and I would definitely advise you to avoid this book if you have trigger warnings for torture. There are some things that happen here that are just brutal. That's the only way to describe them. It's the kind of situation where the more you think about it the more uncomfortable you become about it. As I mentioned before, Laia's portion of the story is about spying on the Commandant but that woman is not to be trifled with and there is so much suspense to Laia's chapters. She is working as a slave and as such, she is treated as a slave. It's not an easy life for her. Things are also not easy for Elias. He wants to be free of the violent military academy but his main plot point revolves around the trials to choose the new emperor. And these trials make The Hunger Games seem like child's play. Some of these challenges are just horrifying! They're hard to read and the more I think about them the worse they sit with me. It will set your heart pounding from beginning to end. But there is also a fair amount of mystery and surprises along the way. It was when the mystery was high and the violence was low that I enjoyed the book the most.
And while the violence was extremely gratuitous that is not what I didn't like the most about the plot development, I was incredibly engaged in both plot lines. It was the narrative style that I didn't love. Changing perspectives isn't always my thing. In the case of An Ember in the Ashes there was just so much going on that at times it felt hard to keep track of it all when you weren't involved with them all at once. I think my biggest problem was that at times the two stories would connect and then at other times they were completely independent. And while they did come full-circle in the end there were some moments where I had wished they didn't change perspectives so often. It just felt like two different stories instead of one cohesive story for me.
That being said I really enjoyed An Ember in the Ashes, there were just some things that didn't completely work for me. It's one of those books for me that I enjoyed a lot while I was in the moment and then when I think back on it, I see more of the things I didn't like. All in all though a really great debut.
Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Borrow/Buy. I know a lot of people have loved this one and I can see why, it's definitely a thrilling read. It may have been a case of the hype monster or it may have been something else. I would recommend this book to people who are fans of fast-paced and action-packed stories that don't mind gratuitous violence. Especially if you like odious but realistic characters. And despite the criticism I would absolutely recommend the audiobook.
Have you read An Ember in the Ashes? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!