An Ember in the Ashes
(An Ember in the Ashes, Book One)
By Sabaa Tahir
Narrator: Fiona Hardingham and Steve West
Length: 15 hours & 23 minutes
Genres: Fiction, Young-adult, Adventure, Fantasy, Magic, Historical Fiction (in spirit)
Take a Peek: Audible | Overdrive | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads
Rating: A BILLION STARS
Guys. GUYS. THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD. I really can’t say enough about this series and I’m definitely kind of obsessing about it these days. This audiobook happened a few weeks ago before I decided to start writing reviews, but I had to include it because I’m still reeling. Everything about this was amazing and listening to the audiobook only heightened the experience because the narrators were top notch. Buckle up kids, this is gonna be a long one. God, I’m so excited I don’t even know where to begin!
It starts in the perspective of Laia, a lowly scholar girl who lives with her brother and two grandparents. She’s noticed lately that her brother Darin has been keeping odd hours and carrying around a sketchbook everywhere he goes. When she catches a glimpse into said sketchbook, it’s filled with doodles of weapons—concerning behavior to say the least. A group of masks (or a fancy word for soldiers) comes to their home one night, killing their grandparents and accusing Darin of treason. The two siblings try to escape, but quickly get caught and Darin tells Laia to run. She listens without thinking, barely making it to safety and spends the rest of the damn book berating herself for leaving Darin all alone. There’s no friends or family she can turn to for help, so she goes to the only connection she has left—the resistance. Through her interaction with members of the resistance, we learn that Laia’s parents used to be a part of it before they were killed and apparently were pretty bad ass. With some aggressive negotiating, the resistance decides to help Darin escape prison if Laia will pose as a servant and gather information for them in return. Feeling guilty with her recent abandonment, she readily agrees.
We also get to hear the perspective of Elias—a.k.a. my new fictional husband—who has spent most of his life training to be a mask at the very strict and very prestigious Blackcliff Academy. He’s been there for years and has finally made it to graduation, but he hates it. The life of a soldier is not one he wanted and he’s planning to escape. Elias has spent months hiding rations and supplies and he’s finally ready to blow the joint after the graduating ceremony. As luck would have it, he’s stopped right before he can get away by an Augur, which is basically a big scary-looking fortune cookie that can see the future. For anyone who has read The Mortal Instrument series, they’re pretty much exactly like the Silent Brothers. Anyway, the Augur tells Elias to reconsider his escape plan, saying freedom won’t be all it’s cracked up to be and he’ll have a chance to create his own freedom if he has the will to stay. Since he hasn’t mentioned his plans to anyone, even his best friend Helene, he takes the Augur’s warning seriously.
After graduation, it is announced that the Augurs want to look for a new Emperor and have created a competition for four specially selected students to fight for the title. And guess who gets chosen?! It comes down to Elias, his best friend Helene, Marcus who happens to be the creepiest character ever, and Zak who doesn’t really matter at all if I’m being honest. There are four trials to this competition and the first person to win two will become the new Emperor. The one in second place will become the new Blood Shrike, which is fancy talk for General or second in command. Elias only hesitates a moment before he accepts, remembering the Augur’s words from earlier. All four competitors are forced to meet with the Commandant, one of their superiors (who happens to be Elias’s mother) and a god damn she-devil with no soul. During this meeting Elias happens to notice that his mother has a new servant who is none other than Laia in disguise! DUN DUN DUN!!
While Laia tries to dodge blows from the Commandant and gather insider information, Elias has to compete in the nightmare-inducing Emperor trials. All of the character’s lives get intertwined in unexpected ways and there’s a kick ass ending that will literally blow your freaking socks off.
Oh man, where to even begin.
Laia is such an amazing female main character and I love how independent and strong she is throughout the entire novel. The same goes for Helene because even though she had a tendency to get on my nerves, that didn’t take away from her intelligence or killer fighting skills. Reading a young-adult book with strong, independent female leads is always a good day in my opinion. Woo feminism!
On the flip side, Elias was also a great character to read about and I loved the alternating perspectives between the two. He’s a strong soldier with heart of gold who just wants the chance to live his own life, and who doesn’t love that?! After watching Elias show kindness to everyone around him while still being smart on the “battlefield,” you can’t help but fall into the old rooting-for-the-underdog trap.
And the villains!! Oh my god, I have never hated a character more than I hate the Commandant. All too often I encounter fictional bad guys that are more annoying than evil. You’re not scared of them, you just want them to get out of the way and stop ruining the story. This was different though. Marcus and the Commandant seriously scared the crap out of me. Both of them are so emotionless and determined in their scheming, it makes you wonder if they can even be defeated! Some hardcore Cersei Lannister vibes up in here.
The setting is really brilliant too and Tahir has done a great job building up this universe, down to the last detail. Just looking at all the maps makes it evident how much time and thought was put into this. I even listed this book under historical fiction (technically it’s not but whatevs…) because The Empire really feels like ancient Rome. That’s not a time or place we hear very often about these days, especially in young-adult books, so it was a refreshing perspective.
In terms of narrators, the two voice actors did a great job and really brought life to Laia and Elias. Right now I’m actually reading a hard copy of the sequel A Torch Against the Night and I can hear their voices in my mind as I read. That might be weird of me, but it’s hard to care when I have smooth sounds of Steve West’s accent in my noggin.
NOTHING. THIS BOOK IS PERFECTION.
If you haven’t noticed from this incessantly long and rambling review, I loved this novel. Whether you read a hard copy or listen to the audio book, just freaking read it. You can thank me later.