Series: An Ember in the Ashes, #1
Published by Razorbill on April 28th 2015
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.
An Ember in the Ashes totally blew me away. I had this on my pile from a swap and had heard good things, but didn’t buckle down and read it until I saw that she was coming to Anderson’s bookshop in September. Once I picked the book up, I could not put it down. The book goes between the POV of two characters: Laia, a girl who has lived with her family until her grandparents were brutally murdered and her brother imprisoned for a notebook he had in his possession. Now, she is on the run and ends up with help from the Resistance. Her goal is to save her brother and she thinks they will help her – only they need something in return. So they send her into the home of the Commandant, the leader of a school that trains students from a young age to kill and be brutal and eventually become Masks, the scary soldiers that are trained to kill and do the Empire’s bidding. There she is to spy and gain information for them, but every day is a risk to her life.
Elias is the second character we follow through the book. He is the son of the Commandant, who never wanted him and has been trained to be a killer Mask for the kingdom. Elias is different though, he wants to run away and never harm another soul again. He was left as a child and was brought up by peaceful tribes people, who taught him to love and cherish life. Although he has gained prestige at the school, he knows he wants to leave and never become a Mask. The mask itself is a sign of his not wanting to be apart of it, as it melds to one’s skin, but his he takes off every chance he gets. His plan to escape the day after graduation is foiled when he is drawn into a game to possibly become the new Emperor, only he may not be cruel enough to win. Only the top 4 students are chose to compete, including his best friend and possible love interest Helene, the only girl at the academy. They must work together against twins, one who is cruel and the other who seems kinder but follows in his brother’s shadow. The games won’t let them work together for long though.
So, what did I love about this book? I loved the darkness. There is a lot of violence and darkness in this book, it drips dystopian with magic interwoven. I love the characters. Laia is not brave or strong at first, she runs away instead of fighting, she takes a task because she knows she needs help. Slowly, she learns how to be brave in her own way. Elias is going against the grain, he cannot be the killer he needs to be and he falls for Laia the first time he sees her. They have few interactions but he cannot get her out of his head, same with her. That’s probably the only part I don’t like is that their love seems to spark from looks alone. They barely know each other at all until closer to the end of the book. If there’s a love triangle, I am totally Team Helene. I know… I’m going against the grain here but I loved her character. She cared for Elias, was super badass and literally is his best friend, having grown up with him in that horrible place. Not to mention Elias is kinda pining for her until he meets Laia.
The plot was killer as well. I loved the twists and turns, the magic, the tragedy, the utter brutalness of this world. The villains were so terrible and even the protagonists are not perfect, merely trying to exist in the world they live in at first until they find something to fight for. So good!!! If you like darker stories, this series is one to check out.
An impressive start to a new series, one that was engaging and exciting and flew by for such a long book!