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.
i have very mixed thoughts about this, and to be honest, i’m a little afraid to share my opinions.
i didn’t have very high expectations for AN EMBER IN THE ASHES. i remember reading the first 100 pages some time last year, but never picking it up again. and i must admit, i understand my younger self. while the plot held a lot of potential, i felt like the first quarter of the book lacked in exploitation. the world building, which was actually really interesting, could have been more detailed. if it wasn’t for the synopsis at the back of my copy, i would have had a harder time getting into it, and would have missed on some great things in the storyline.
while the story is labeled as ‘a brutal story, inspired by ancient Rome’, the author also included some Middle-Eastern aspects: djinns, ghouls, etc., which really surprised me (in a good way), because these are the mythical creatures i grew up hearing about (and fearing). i loved the way Sabaa Tahir imagined them, and the suble way they appeared in the story. which leads me to say that the author’s writing is wonderful. so so so beautiful and breath-taking, even from a translation (i read this book in french). i sometimes had to take a step back and read some passages over and over again.
“There are two kinds of guilt. The kind that’s a burden and the kind that gives you purpose. Let your guilt be your fuel. Let it remind you of who you want to be.”
with that being said, let’s move on to the characters. and i have a lot to say.
the characters of this book felt…close. i really liked how Middle-Eastern the characters names were. Elias, Sana…those are names that are very common where i live. so it was really easy to imagine them actually being there. it was different from the very difficult names i usually see in YA fantasy. those felt quite simple to go by.
however, that doesn’t exclude the fact that i still don’t understand some of the characters actions. nor did i love the romance as much as everyone has. i appreciated it, but it wasn’t my favorite. i just couldn’t understand how Elias was able to sacrifice anything for Laia after around three or four encounters, but couldn’t face the law when he was asked to fight his best friends, with whom he spent a huge part of his life. i don’t know if it’s just me and i’m missing something, but i really couldn’t understand it.
i also feel like the author could have focused on the main romance (Laia/Elias) instead of creating a love square (?). to me, it just messed everything up and i’m really sad because Elias and Laia could have been more developped if there weren’t those ~other people.
i think what i hated the most in this book is Helene. i’ve read some reviews on goodreads, claiming that she’s a fierce, independent woman who stands up for herself and suffers between her duty and feelings. let me tell you something: if you think Helene is a feminist, take that back. because she is racist. and if it’s not intersectional, it’s not feminism. don’t even argue with me on this. not only that, but i do believe Laia also learns to be a strong independant woman throughout the book. so you claiming Helene as the feminist icon is just wrong. stop it.
to conclude, while AN EMBER IN THE ASHES held an interesting storyline and included some cultures in a wonderful way, it had a lot of flaws and lacked in many things. so while i enjoyed it, it wasn’t my favorite.