[Review] An Ember in The Ashes - Sabaa Tahir

Title of Book: An Ember in the Ashes
Series: An Ember in the Ashes #1
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication Year: 2015
Language: English
Format: Hardback
Pages: 450
BookDepository | Periplus

Set in a terrifyingly brutal Rome-like world, An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom. It’s a story that’s literally burning to be told.
What if you were the spark that could ignite a revolution?
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, 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 will find that their destinies are intertwined and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.
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.

Thank you to HarperCollins UK for providing me a copy of this book.
An Ember in The Ashes is a fantasy young adult book by Sabaa Tahir. It tells a story about Laia, a girl who lives in a place ruled by the Martials. Laia is a Scholar and her people have been oppressed by the Empire for hundred years. Meanwhile Elias is a young Martial man who trains as Empire’s most deadly soldiers, the Mask. One day, Laia’s brother is taken away by the Empire and locked up in jail. Laia then tries to find a way to save her brother by becoming a spy for a rebel group called the Resistance, on the Blackcliff academy. Blackcliff academy is a school where they train Martials to become soldiers. On the other hand, Elias was attempting to escape from turning into what he hates his whole life. But one surprising event occurs that require him to stay at the academy and fight. Laia and Elias’s lives cross path and they might be the start of a revolution.
An Ember in the Ashes’s world is quite complex. The Empire is supposed to be based on Ancient Rome’s society. They have clear separation on social classes which determined on what race you are (Martials, Scholar, Tribal, etc.). Slavery and brutality can be seen anywhere in the Empire. The Empire also has complex military structure that I had a hard time at first to understand. There are just so many ranks with different functions and I’m not good with remembering those so it was a bit of a struggle for me. But once I figure those out, I wasn’t bothered by it at all. Although it is based on Ancient Rome, I always feel that the world is in somewhat Middle-East-ish setting. There’s a lot of mention of desert and sand storm (if I remember correctly). I don’t know. If only there’s more of the physical description of the world, it would really help the reader to visualize the Empire. 
Like I said before, slavery and brutality are easy to spot in the Empire. The violence in this book can be graphic. Although there are many mentions of rape threat, there is no rape scene in this book. Almost rape probably, but no actual graphic rape scene. It’s like as if the rape threat is exist in the book to point out how brutal it is living in the Empire. Still, if you’re uncomfortable with all the rape threat then it’s a warning for you.
From the summary, I assumed that Laia and Elias are two very different characters. This book is written from both their perspectives. They both apparently have more similarities than I thought at first. Though they came from a different world, they have the same internal struggles. Laia is having self-doubt and constantly thinking that she is a weak person for not standing up for her brother. Laia’s mother is the past leader of resistance group and always known as the Lioness for her strength and bravery. Because of her family background, Laia feels pressured by resistance group and always in need to show that she’s not a coward. While Elias is always in confusion in deciding who he wants to be. His mother is the Blackcliff Commandant. She is a cold leader who doesn’t mind whipping her young students if they broke the rules. Elias doesn’t see her mother as his inspiration. Throughout the book, both characters developed really well and we can see they grow into the people they need to be. 
As for the romance, I think this book doesn’t really focus on that aspect. It’s there, but it doesn’t take large portion of the book. That’s good for people who seek action in fantasy book and not really into romance. Rather than a love triangle, I’d say it’s more of a love rectangle. The attractions between characters don’t seem forced and I’m dying to know the continuation of their relationships.
All in all, it’s a good fantasy novel. It’s fast paced and each chapter ends in cliffhanger that would make you want to read more. The plot is complex and kept me intrigued throughout the book. I highly recommend An Ember in The Ashes. 

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