Genre: YA Fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
FROM THE BACK COVER:
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.
As the first book in a series, An Ember in the Ashes is an intriguing tale of danger, loyalty, and fledgling love told from dual points of view. Laia is an orphaned descendant of scholars, who are a conquered people subject to the rule of the empire, and Elias is a Mask, one of the soldiers whose life purpose is to protect the empire. Even though they have very different backgrounds and end-goals, they both hate the empire but are forced to hide this hatred for fear of death and/or retribution on those they love. The main villain, the Commandant, is also well-developed, although her motivation and WHY she’s so evil isn’t ever fully fleshed out. Perhaps that will be addressed in future books.
I loved Tahir’s story immensely and stayed up well past midnight to finish it, because I couldn’t put it down. The first several lines were jaw-droppers and immediately pulled me in. The characters are well-developed and motivated, and the world-building is pretty good. The romance(s) seem a little forced, but it/they work well. My only hangup is that there is a lot of telling rather than showing, or in non-writer terms, there just isn’t much description to the world Tahir has created. The focus of the story is more on Laia’s and Elias’s inner turmoil and dialogue, which I guess it should be, but the story doesn’t have that special magical touch of descriptive voice that a story like this begs for. I’m not big on superfluous description, but I’d have loved to have been pulled in a little more to this desert world full of mysticism and color and magic. All in all, I definitely look forward to reading the sequel and give this book 4.5/5 Stars.