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.
If a publicist says that an upcoming book is the next Harry Potter, Hunger Games, or any series that’s remotely interesting; just run. Run, as fast as you can away from the book.
I’ve finally come to that conclusion because there have been way too many books promoted this way and all of them almost inevitably don’t like up to the hype.
An Ember in the Ashes is one of them.
To be fair, the writing is really solid. You know, with a lot of the books I’ve had issues with lately the prose hasn’t been bothering me. That’s sort of strange because usually bad prose is a clear indicator that I won’t like a book. But that wasn’t the case with An Ember in the Ashes. It was very readable. The two narrations were set apart enough, and there was a nice distinction between them. But other than that…
This book is nothing special. The plot it’s what I’ve seen several times before with dystopia and fantasy novels. High stakes competition, rebels trying to change society….snooze.
Then there’s the characters. While they were distinct enough to have a distinguish voice, I didn’t care for either of them.
Laia has an extreme case of TSTL. I hated how she was blindly loyal to her brother who for the five or six pages we saw of him is a selfish jerk. I thought she was stupid for entrusting her life, her freedom, with an organization that was obviously dubious. I hated how weak the character was. Never questioning things and never thinking about maybe just letting said brother deal with his shit himself.
And yes, I get that Idiot Brother’s life was on the line, but come on.
Then there is Elias.
I would like to say he is better than dumb ass Laia, but he’s not. Sure, the trials are interesting and gory enough. And I think that’s why a lot of people are going to go for this book. It’s pitched as being a YA Gladiator type of thing. And I get how that would be really cool. And if you just focus on that part Elias is a bad ass. But if you look at the other parts of the book he is a dumb ass who has a major case of insta love and is an insta dick since he can’t make up his mind if he wants to be with his best friend who he actually has genuine palatable chemistry with or if he wants to be with Slave Girl (Laia) because she’s just too beautiful for her slave clothes that she has to wear a cloak to hide that awesome bod.
It gets worse throughout the book rape and the threat of rape is used constantly as a plot device. In fact, there is one such scene where one of the characters does in fact experience sexual violence. While I understand that the sort of world that Tahir is trying to depict is one full of savagery and brutality, I didn’t feel like these scenes fitted any real purpose other than shock or awe. The character that deals with this sort of treatment really suffers no emotional fall out from the ordeal. And I still can’t come up with a rationale explanation why those scenes were needed. Other than hey, drama.
A lot of people really liked this one, but I didn’t. I don’t think it deserved the hype it got. While the writing might’ve been wonderful, the lackluster character added by a half baked rape plot did not work for me.
Overall Rating: C-