An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1) by Sabaa Tahir
Published: April 28th 2015 by Razorbill
Genre: fantasy (YA)
Rating: 3/5 stars – ★★★
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.
I’m quite disappointed in this book. For years, I have heard people rave about it. How fantastic it was, how they couldn’t wait for the next book. I never picked it up, because I found the hype to be quite intimidating. I finally decided to read in in September. And I found myself struggling with this book.
What I loved…
The parts I loved about this book were what I expected the entire book to be like -if that makes sense.
I loved reading about the world. The fantasy world inspired by the Roman empire was so brutal and real, and it drew me in. I wanted to learn more about the Scholars and Martials, how they were conquered, and the current political climate. Everything about this world is so interesting, mainly because Sabaa Tahir wasn’t afraid to let the cruelty and darkness of the Roman Empire show.
“We conquered them. We rule them now. It’s the way of the world.”
It might be weird to say, but I love the fact that this story was brutal, dark and gory. The actual Roman empire was a brutal place, and they weren’t shy about rape, slavery and punishment. While it is awful to read about, I like that Sabaa Tahir didn’t pretend or made it more wholesome.
I also truly enjoy a rebellion story. I’m a sucker for them, sorry! Especially when an insider doubts their allegiance to their people, like Elias does in this story.
I try not to glare at Helene. Must be nice to believe so fervently in what the Empire spoon-feeds us. Why can’t I just be like her – like everyone else?
All these parts should’ve made for a book I absolutely adored. Unfortunately, they were all overshadowed by one thing.
What I didn’t like…
The romance. The romance nearly killed this book for me. Honestly, I found myself rolling my eyes constantly because every time I thought the romance would be over and done with, it popped up again.
First of all, a love square? REALLY? A love triangle wasn’t bad enough??
In the first few chapters, Elias says that he and Helene are childhood friends and that he has never thought of her in a romantic way. He then continues to describe, in detail, the way she looks in her armor constantly. He says she is beautiful, stares at her all the time, and suddenly becomes to distracted to fight. But sure, you’ve never thought of her that way.
Slight spoiler > And then, he gets mad at her when she confesses her feelings to him! WHAT?? He says: “But I’m not in love with you, and you hate me for it. You’ve let that ruin our friendship.” NO, Elias, YOU are the one ruining this friendship. This is absolutely ridiculous, and I hope someone kicks you in the nuts. > end spoiler.
And then there’s Elias and Laia. He suddenly becomes obsessed with her after running into her once and wants to rescue her. Apparently, being pretty makes you a slave to be rescued. Don’t even get me started on this.
Of course, up to this point it’s only a love triangle. Enter Keenan, part of the Resistance. Laia and Keenan apparently want to be together even though she doesn’t think of him once when she doesn’t see him, and they’ve only met like 5 times for 5 minutes. No. No.
I would think that with a brother in prison and you being a slave for the most brutal woman in the Empire, you’d have better things to do than moon over 2 guys. But no, the majority of this book is either Laia pining over Elias or Keenan, or Elias pining over Laia or Helene. Miss me with that shit.
Listen, I am usually a fan of romance. I don’t mind romance mixed in with my fantasy books and often find myself shipping at least one pairing in a book. This book, however, would have been better without any romance at all. I just didn’t feel any chemistry between the characters.
I really enjoyed the actual fantasy part of this book. If the romance weren’t present (which it shouldn’t have been, in my opinion), this could’ve been a 4 or 5 star read. I really disliked the romance, and it brought the rating of this book down by quite a bit. I’m still deciding whether to continue the series. On the one hand, I want to know what happens next. On the other hand, I don’t want to go through all the bullshit with the romance again.