For years Laia has lived in fear. Fear of the Empire, fear of the Martials, fear of truly living at all. Born as a Scholar, she’s never had much of a choice.
For Elias it’s the opposite. He has seen too much on his path to becoming a Mask, one of the Empire’s elite soldiers. With the Masks’ help the Empire has conquered a continent and enslaved thousands of Scholars, all in the name of power.
When Laia’s brother is taken she must force herself to help the Resistance, the only people who have a chance of saving him. She must spy on the Commandant, ruthless overseer of Blackcliff Academy. Blackcliff is the training ground for Masks and the very place that Elias is planning to escape. If he succeeds, he will be named deserter. If found, the punishment will be death.
But once Laia and Elias meet, they find that their destinies are intertwined and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire.
In the ashes of a broken world one person can make a difference. One voice in the dark can be heard. The price of freedom is always high and this time that price might demand everything, even life itself.
I’ve only started getting in YA recently and I thought I would give Sabaa Tahir’s debut novel, An Ember in the Ashes a go because after I’ve read and enjoyed Sarah J. Maas’s books, I was really in the mood for YA fantasy. Sabaa Tahir’s debut novel is about two people who have nothing in common besides their dissatisfaction towards what the Empire have done. In the high fantasy world of Serra, the people are sectioned and they live in their own factions, much like most of the YA dystopian books out there. The heroine of the book, Laia is a Scholar who are enslaved to the Martials, elite soldiers and generals that exact violence and cruelty through their reign on the Scholars. Here’s the turning point, Elias, the hero is a Martial and he’s fed up with the way things are going, therefore, he plans to desert his duty as a Martial upon graduation.
In An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir creates a high fantasy universe that is very well-written and highly imaginative. From the desserts of Serra to the barracks of Blackcliff Academy, every detail of the universe of Serra is intricately described. If you’re looking for a fantasy read to whet your appetite for action, the twisting web of politics and a little tinge of romance, look no further as the book is action-packed and filled with political conflicts that makes the power struggle between the Empire and the Resistance more real and that captures the attention of the reader.
I would like to praise Sabaa Tahir for her lyrical prose that complements the setting of her debut novel. Her writing is poetic and it lends a good voice to the plot of the book. I can dare say that Sabaa Tahir’s writing matches the spell-binding storytelling abilities of a kehanni, an ancient tale spinner who shares mystical tales, in the book. The universe of Serra is atmospheric as Sabaa Tahir’s writing voice tingles the readers’ senses, from the heady scent of spices to the heart-stopping fighting scenes, An Ember in the Ashes is gripping as it is enrapturing.
The book is told from both Laia and Elias’s perspective and I enjoyed reading the alternating chapters told by the slave girl with the determination and grit of a true fighter and the handsome warrior who seeks freedom from the destiny he was born into. With the alternating chapters, readers will be given a wider, more insightful glimpse into the universe of Serra as well as the unfolding of the plot.
However, the only problem I had with An Ember in the Ashes is the pace of the plot. The opening chapter was an explosive beginning that kicked off the events of the book, but after a few chapters in, I found that the story had a slow, more mellow build up. It wasn’t until the second part of the book (there are three parts in the book) that things started to pick up and there was certainly more action and expanding of the plot. There were some parts of the book that were quite draggy for my liking and I felt that there were some parts which were quite unnecessary to the story but other than that, I enjoyed following the flow of the book. The ending gives leeway for the sequel and impending conflicts to be resolved and obstacles for Elias and Laia to battle in the sequel.
Overall, An Ember in the Ashes is an impressive debut, filled with intrigue and mystery and flavoured with a heady dose of romance. I would highly recommend this book to fans of Sarah J. Maas and YA fantasy, and this might be a bit of a stretch, but I would extend recommendation to fans of The Hunger Games as some parts of this book is reminiscent to the dystopian classic. Sabaa Tahir is a fresh voice in YA fiction and An Ember in the Ashes is definitely a rare find.