An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Review:

I’d heard a lot of hype around this book and it did not disappoint. I have to admit, I wasn’t entirely prepared for this book. I had read some reviews back when I first put it on my TBR and I went on hold at the library. That was months ago. All I remembered about it was that everyone loved it and I couldn’t wait to dig in.

In case you need it, here’s the back cover info:

A “deft, polished debut”  (Publishers Weekly, starred review), Sabaa Tahir‘s AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is a thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and pulse-pounding read. Set in a rich, high-fantasy world with echoes of ancient Rome, it tells the story of a slave fighting for her family and a young soldier fighting for his freedom.

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.

The story is told in the first person, alternating between the perspectives of Elias and Laia, sometimes handing off during interactions of theirs and those bits have been especially fun.

Love the character progression of every single character. Loved the bits of humanity and the bits of ice in every single character. Loved the way the fights were settled. Loved the way the Augers seem to have everything planned and executed. I’m interested in seeing their end game. Their involvement was very Old Testament God to me. Maybe I’ve just been in the Old Testament for too long. I even appreciated the slow burn to the romance and the way it seemed to sidestepped one of my least favorite YA tropes. I even loved the way that one death left me with the feeling that story had just lost its most decent character, no I won’t tell you which one. It left with my with a slight hangover and I had to keep it for a little extra time after finishing just so I can listen to my favorite parts over again. I listened to the book, which was over 15 hours, and the narrators were just amazing. Steve West did Elias’s perspective and Fiona Hardingham did Laia’s.

Altogether, 4 stars for being in love and for breaking the mold a bit. Anyone into YA would love this, including adults. It’s also a great read for anyone doing the year of reading women of color put on by the Goodreads group 500 Great Books by Women or otherwise interested in diversity in books!

I am now on hold for the sequel, A Torch Against the Night but you can buy it at the link if you want it now.

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