Reviewed in India on 8 September 2018
I am kicking myself for not having read this wonderful, wonderful book earlier. Why did I not pick it up sooner, you may ask. For the simple reason that I had barely even heard about it. Of course, I saw a picture here, heard someone mention it there… but never a huge buzz about it at all. Not like some other YA books. When The Reaper at the Gates came out some time ago, that was the first time it really came to my attention. And after having read this, I feel like it doesn’t get half as much recognition that it should. IT IS PHENOMENAL, BELIEVE ME.
This is a brutal, dark and merciless world. The Scholars were conquered by the Martials hundreds of years ago, and have been living under their rule ever since. They have been treated horribly, and even been taken as slaves. But a resistance is growing, and the scholars want to fight back. Laia is a Scholar girl and has lived in constant fear of the Martials. Her parents are dead – killed by the Martials, so she and her brother live with her grandparents. When her brother is taken for questioning after a book full of Martial secrets is found in his possession and her grandparents are killed, Laia decides to help the Resistance as a spy in exchange for help to break her brother out.
She is sent to spy on the Commandant of Blackcliff Academy, where the Empire’s most elite soldiers, the Masks, are trained. The Commandant is the most dangerous person in the Empire… and the mother of Elias Venturius, Blackcliff’s best student. All Elias has ever wanted is to be free of Blackcliff and the Empire, for he is sickened by their cruelty. He is planning to desert (for which the punishment is death) but is told that the only way for him to be truly free is to participate in the Trials, a series of tests to determine who the new emperor will be. Only, the Trials may ask for too high a price, the cost of which could break him.
And doesn’t this set up for the most heart-pounding, bloody and brilliant tale? The answer is yes, yes it does. This book gave me goosebumps while reading it.
“You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”
AN EMBER IN THE ASHES JUST DOES NOT LET UP. From page one, you’re hooked. I could not stop thinking about it, stop wondering what would happen to my precious characters, stop obsessing over every sentence and word and letter. I picked it up every spare minute I had, and I was itching to get back to it every minute I didn’t. It’s a whirlwind of emotions, and a wild, wild ride. The story left me angry, heartbroken and raging. But also completely in love. You will feel like this is the only thing that matters in this world. And truly, nothing compares.
I loved the blend of Ancient Rome and some Arabian folklore with a diverse cast of characters! It’s not very often you see brown people in fantasy, so I’m happy! And I admire Sabaa Tahir for changing up the book covers even though they don’t have a flow to them any more. Anyways, I think I’ll find no fault with anything this woman does because I just may be a little in love with her ❤
Laia, I’m sorry to say, was not someone I liked. Her growth through the book was admirable, and she became a stronger, more fierce person. She finally started to fight for what she wanted, and become more useful to the story. But I felt that for the majority of the book, she was whining about how she was useless, then falling in love with two boys. It irritated me to no end, but since it’s not the main part of the story, I could overlook that.
I did ship Laia with Keenan though, not Elias. Keenan and Laia have similar histories, and can relate with each other. They know each other better, and have a reason. But Elias and Laia’s relationship just based on lust. It doesn’t make sense to me. Why would Laia fall for a Martial? After the deep hatred she’s had for her whole life, I don’t believe it could vanish after a couple of meetings. Some slight insta-love happening here. Elias wanting to protect her I can understand, because he’d do it for anyone in need.
Elias Venturius is precious, and has to be protected at all costs. Sometimes, I thought his decisions were badly made and he didn’t think of the consequences before acting, but it was all with a good intention, so I can forgive him for that. He’s just a lonely boy, wracked with guilt as to how many people he’s hurt by being a Mask. All he wants is to stop hurting people around him.
But, above all, Helene Aquilla is my favourite character, no doubt. Though she’s not one of the main characters in this book, Helene left the biggest impression on me! She reminds me of Aelin Galathynius. She was raised to be a merciless and cold, the only girl in a group of boys in a brutal environment where she had to prove herself again and again. People keep underestimating her, and that will probably be the last mistake they make, for Helene is a Mask, and one of the best at that. I JUST FREAKING LOVE HER AND I CAN’T WAIT TO READ THE NEXT BOOK BECAUSE THERE ARE CHAPTERS FROM HER POV.
Elias’s and Helene’s friendship was beautiful, I was heartbroken when it’s strained for various reasons. They are meant for each other seriously! I ship them harder than anything, but of course… it was never to be. All I ask is for them to be friends forever. At least give me that.
Whatever I say after this point will just be more flailing and singing praises for this beauty, and I feel as though I can’t do it justice by writing a review. The feelings cannot be expressed in words!