Check out my review of Sabaa Tahir’s young adult debut, An Ember in the Ashes, on The YA Shelf! An Ember in the Ashes was is Amazon’s Best Young Adult Book of 2015, so would be a great place to start reading if you’re unfamiliar with the genre.
My full review is reprinted below!
The Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir is a fast-paced novel set in the Martial Empire, a brutal world reminiscent of Ancient Rome. The book focuses on two main point of view characters: Laia, of the lowly Scholar class, and Elias, an elite citizen training at the prestigious Blackcliff Academy.
The novel sets off at a blistering pace as mysterious “Masks,” assassins of the ruling class, come for Laia’s brother and Laia’s grandparents are killed in the cross-fire. Laia is forced to seek the aid of the aid of a secret rebel movement, who will only help her free her brother if she goes undercover as a slave for Commandant Veturius, the cruel mistress of Blackbriar, and Elias’s cold and unloving mother.
As Laia struggles to survive in her captivity, she and Elias cross paths and are unexpectedly drawn to each other. Then Elias’s own life is plunged into danger as he is selected for a deadly competition to determine who will be the next emperor.
This book was easy to consume and kept me turning pages. The writing was smooth and the world-building was impressive for a debut author. I loved how Tahir explored the injustice and inequality of the Empire from both sides. Elias, though being high-born and privileged, was just as trapped by the Empire as Laia, a slave. Tahir constantly thrust her two main characters into impossible situations where they were forced to choose between duty and freedom, friendship and love, and subtle layers of right and wrong. The alternating point of view really worked, and I was impressed by the subtle differences the author brought to the two perspectives.
There is also a great supporting cast, including Elias’s best friend, Helene, who has her own heartbreaking and compelling storyline, and the despicable Marcus, who you love to hate. But even the villains are multi-layered, as the book inspires moments of pure sympathy. Two love triangles brought another layer of compelling complexity to the book; I couldn’t quite decide who I was rooting for until near the end!
Add a little magic and mystery in the shadowy creatures that follow Laia, magical silver Masks that permanently meld to the characters’ faces, and Augurs who read minds and don’t age, and you have a perfect mix of real and mystical.