Title: An Ember in the Ashes (#1 of 4)
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Original language: English
In a world divided by classes, Laia and her family struggle daily to survive under the Empire’s Martial rule. One night, Laia’s home is raided by Masks on suspicions of treason. Her brother is arrested, her grandparents are killed right before her eyes, and Laia is forced to escape into the night. From this point onward, she vows to rescue her brother by joining the resistance and plotting to over throw the Empire.
Unfortunately, An Ember in the Ashes has more flaws that I can count. This book fell so short for me, I genuinely had to force myself to read the whole thing.
Laia is a Scholar (not in the literal sense because if she were, this book would be totally different) and lives with her brother and grandparents. One night their house is raided by Martials (another faction of people in this non-descriptive part of the world) and her grandparents are killed while her brother gets shipped off to prison.
Here our protagonist sets off on an adventure to rescue her brother. She (attempts) to do that by joining/begging forces the resistance leaders and ends up going on a mission of UTMOST IMPORTANCE in the heart of the empire. Let me tell you, our female lead is no dumb blond, no sir! She’s a dumb brunette instead. She somehow escapes all the wonderful things reserved for slaves (like torture, maiming, rape, etc) AND stays incognito right under the Commandant’s nose (even though the Commandant is Satan herself, and that she’s caught and killed most resistant leaders and spies). But great things await our precious little Laia, there’s NO WAY that an expert army general will EVER find out that Laia is a spy. Nope. Not gonna happen.
You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes.
Elias is a Martial, and a Mask (a term used to distinguish fighters from normal folks). He’s tall, handsome, intelligent, etc. Of course he is. He has been training all his life in Blackcliff Academy to become a Mask with some of his BFFs, including Helene, THE ONLY GIRL IN THE ACADEMY. Helene is seriously a badass, she’s the only reason I read this book till the end. BUT THEN, she falls for Elias because, of course, but guess who Elias has his sights on? Not our own little slave girl?!? NEVER SAW THAT COMING. But Laia, being “such a pretty thing”, has more than one suitor, including a handsome and rugged member of the resistance! Oh, whatever shall she do now? Wait. Aren’t we forgetting…. oh yeah! Darin!
Darin is Laia’s older brother, whom we hear about in the first few pages of the book and who then gets whisked away to prison to be tortured and/or killed. His survival is dependent on his little sister finding a way to save him. Yikes. For the rest of the book, the only time we hear about Darin is when Laia conjures him up in her mind as her voice of reason…. which translates into more woe-is-me whining.
Plot (or rather lack thereof)
Each chapter swaps perspectives between Laia and Elias, offering a stunningly unreliable first-person narrator throughout the book. The Elias chapters were better, if only for the presence of Helene and some actual plot development (the trials to decide the new Emperor are actually interesting). The whole world within Blackcliff is well developed and interesting. If the whole book had been about Elias trying to break free from his destiny as a mask, it would have been a whole lot better.
The other half of the book is seen through Laia’s eyes, which equates to a whole bunch of whining, pining and feeling sorry for herself. Even though she’s a slave, and slaves are supposed to be beaten into submission and under complete control of their masters, somehow Laia gets to roam the academy at night, escape to festivals an meet with the resistance regularly, WHILE NEVER BEING CAUGHT. This means that either a)Laia is uber clever (nope) or b)the Commandant is not as good at keeping track of her slaves as she pretends to be (which seems to be the logical answer, and yet makes no sense at all).
So my choices are to stay and be evil or to run and be evil. Wonderful.
Along with glaring plot holes, contrived story lines and more editing mistakes that I can shake a stick at, An Ember in the Ashes gets a huge thumbs down. The only thing that gave it more than zero in my rating is Helene, Elias (most of the time) and the whole story behind Blackcliff.
If you like good thought out writing, this one’s not for you.
If you enjoy a good plot with endearing characters that pull you into their universe, this book is definitely not for you.
If you like dumb characters with no depth and simple linear plots, then by all means, READ IT.