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.
In October, Dutch publisher LS Amsterdam organised a nice scavenger hunt. Find at least ten, at most twelve masks, hidden on the blogs of a couple of Dutch bookbloggers, and win a copy of An Ember in the Ashes! (Dutch title: Vuur en As). I decided to participate, because I really wanted to read this book, even if it was in Dutch. A couple of days later, after sending the publisher the twelve masks I had found, I got an email saying that I’d won one of the copies. I was super excited when it arrived, because it was just so beautiful! (Honestly, I’d expected a paperback, but it was a beautiful non-jacket hardcover). I kind of went into this book blind; I’d read the summary around the time it came out in English, but I’d forgotten about it when I received the book. So I had no idea what it was about. But stars, it was amazing!
An Ember in the Ashes is about Laia and Elias who live in a place that reminded me a lot of the old Roman culture. Laia is a Scholar who becomes one of the Blackcliff Commander’s slaves. Elias is a Mask who wants nothing more than to desert. But then the augurs announce the Trials (at least, that’s what it translated as in my head, in Dutch they’re called Beproevingen), and Laia and Elias’ lives get a lot more difficult.
Like I said, I went into this story blind, so I didn’t really know what was going to happen in it. The only thing I had recently found out was that the world was inspired by Ancient Rome. I honestly had thought it was an Arabic world, but I really don’t know why. Maybe it was the cover, or the author’s name (sorry). I don’t know why I had the idea it would be an Arabic-inspired story, but I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a more Roman kind of world, with two maps, yay! (There was a map of the world, and a map of the academy that Elias goes to and Laia is a slave in). Because I read it in Dutch, I don’t know all the correct words, so I apologise in advance.
Honestly, I loved this book so much! I read most of it in one sitting, and I just couldn’t get myself to put it down. The story was just incredibly thrilling, and it was so brutal, wow. I had expected that of course, upon finding out about the Roman aspect, but I hadn’t expected it to be this brutal. View Spoiler »There was one point where Elias and Helena (whose name was translated to HelenE in the dutch book, seriously why?) had to fight each other during the Trials, and in order to win, one had to kill the other. Their armies were made out of their friends, and they actually had to kill each other – if they refused they would die themselves. This was just so brutal that I thought to myself it was probably a trick by the Augurs and that the killed soldiers would probably just be ressurected eventually. But that did not happen. Gods « Hide Spoiler
I loved the main characters too, though they were also not likable at the same time. Laia was pretty cowardly at the beginning of the story (as she said herself) – running away from her house even though her brother needed her help (yes okay she couldn’t have handled a Mask, obviously I know that). Elias was pretty likable from the beginning, because he was just completely different from the other Masks. But he made some dick moves in this book that made me dislike him for a couple of seconds. I loved Helena, her determination, her feisty-ness, wow she was amazing, honestly!
Sabaa Tahir’s writing was just so good that I didn’t want this book to end. Points to the translator of this book as well, because normally I’d be super annoyed at the childish-ness of the translation, but honestly I didn’t really feel that with this book so much. Partly because it was just so brutal.
The only thing that I really disliked, and the main reason I took away half a point (officially a whole point, because Goodreads doesn’t do half-points sadly), was the weird sort of love-triangle/square thing going on. View Spoiler »Because there were Laia and Elias, which was the obvious couple in this book, but then there was Helena who’s in love with Elias (who has no idea how to feel about her), and Keenan who is in love with Laia (who likes him back). « Hide Spoiler I hate love triangles, so I wasn’t happy with this either. Why why why do authors think their books will be better with a love triangle? *sad face*
Oh well, in the end, I loved An Ember in the Ashes and I will definitely recommend it to people who love brutal stories inspired by the ancient Romans! GO READ IT! I am certainly going to pick up the sequel, and perhaps an English copy of the first book as well!