As you probably already gathered from the books I share in these Book Club posts I enjoy a real mix of topics but one genre that I am particularly keen on is Sci-Fi/ Fantasy, I think it was The Hunger Games specifically that got me hooked but I know there have been other books before this. A while ago I went on a book buying binge in my local Waterstones & one book that was recommended was ‘An Ember In The Ashes’ by Sabaa Tahir & it’s safe to say I was hooked. I’m currently reading the sequel so thought it only fair to share the first book in the series, as it was the ultimate page turner with a brilliant story filled with colour & richness.
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 & bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones & the destruction of all they hold dear.
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents & 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—& secretly, it’s most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He & Laia will soon realise that their destinies are intertwined—& that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.
Right from the start you are brought into a rich & vivid world that is reminiscent of ancient Rome, which is something I personally loved, as well as introducing the rivalry between Martials (Elias) vs Scholars (Lena) which continues the Rome similarities with Sparta vs Athens. It also brought back memories of Morocco with her rich description of the scent of spices, the glass lanterns, date & apricot trees all of which create a very exotic feel to the world we are about to explore. With the world built up for us, one thing that I would have liked more of was more detail of how the world got into the state that it is, how the scholar & martial clans came to be such rivals.
With the world colourfully brought to life for us, we are introduced to the two main characters who share their POV in alternating chapters which I sometimes don’t like but it worked with this particular story. Elias & Laia are the prisms through which we see the world & it is a brutal one even though it’s a young adult genre, themes of suffering, oppression & the meaning of freedom are explored. These two characters both have different reasons to be at the Blackcliff academy & how their paths cross is the main focus of the story. The author brings out these vulnerable three-dimensional human beings who are forced to do things that go against their very nature & you can’t help but root for them in hoping that they achieve what they set out to do as ultimately it is for the greater good.
The supporting characters all play vital roles in the story & to an extent are there to help Elias & Lais reach their goals. The story does touch slightly on the romantic tension amongst with the Elias & Lais but it does no overshadow the true storyline, the balance was perfect. Throw in Elais best friend, comrade Helene Aquilla who is another fellow student & his good comrade, her role is powerful, she’s a strong female with a nonsense attitude. Laia has her handler Keenan and a sympathetic resistance fighter & Sana who she develops a close friendship with when she gets placed as an undercover slave in the house of The Commandant. She is the main antagonist of the story, also cruel, merciless & simply brutal, Tahir does not hold back on showing this side of the character in the story. But most intriguingly is her very complex relationship with her son, Elias.
The story line is fast-paced, with plenty of twists & turns that are difficult to predict making this a real page turner & one I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I felt that it really hit hard on some of the complex topics, with betrayal, brutality, political scheming all brought together to make this such a brilliant read. I was eagerly awaiting the sequel & so far am not disappointed! AA x