2 September 2016

Review #517: An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1) by Sabaa Tahir

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”

----Nelson Mandela

Sabaa Tahir, an American bestselling author, has penned a heart wrenching and an extremely gripping YA fantasy novel, An Ember in the Ashes that narrates the tale of an ancient yet evocative fantasy world where a young Scholar girl wants to free her brother from the deathly clutches of the ruthless Martial men who have dominated over that young girl's clan for the past 500 years, and now that young girl must do anything in order to help save the only living member of her family, on the other hand, there's also a young man who is on the verge of graduating and becoming a candidate for the throne to the Martial leadership, but he longs for freedom and is planning an escape.


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.

Laia, a barely 17 year old Scholar girl, is on the run from the Masks (army of Martial) who have abducted her brother because of his connection with the Resistance (anti-Martial group of rebellions) and now Laia must find out the Resistance who, in the first place, have given out her brother's name to the Masks. Soon Laia meets the rebels but she needs to pay a heavy and risky price if she wants to save her brother's life at any cost. Laia is enslaved away to the quarters of the Commandant of the Blackcliff Military Academy, where young children, both boys and girls, are trained from a very tender age to become the finest yet ruthless enemy to the Emperor, so that she can spy on the cunning and bloodthirsty woman. But can Laia risk away her life to save her brother?

Elias, an almost 18 years old boy, is soon going to graduate from his country's finest military academy after which he will be chosen by the red-eyed and supernatural Augurs to become an Aspirant (a probable candidate to the throne), but Elias wants to be free from meaningless killing, public executions, kidnapping and torturing innocent lives, but what Elias desires for, is really not possible in his world. Although Elias is all set to escape right after the graduation ceremony but all hell breaks lose when he comes face to face with one of those red-eyed and supernatural (fortune teller) Augurs. Can Elias get what he is seeking for?

This is the book that will make you feel lucky enough to be a bibliophile and superior than those folks who don't read. Yes, this book will make you powerful and to believe in a world where inhuman torture, slavery, execution and killings are so common, and escape to such a blood thirsty land will make you feel sorry and will make you vigorous. The story that you need to live for, the story you need to die for, the story that will help you breathe. (I'm not exaggerating ) The story will finally make you see the sense and the logic behind a universe where one group of people dominates over the another and draws a close similarity with the current world we live in (Deep inner meaning, you need to rack your brain to get that!)

The author's writing style is eloquent and emphatic and the readers will find it no trouble at all to comprehend with the author's story telling style. The narrative is highly absorbing and holds the power to suck the readers right into its flow. Told from the perspectives of the two main protagonists, the dialogues flow deep into the very soul of these two characters, that the readers will find it easy to contemplate with their feelings and thoughts. The pacing of the book is moderate or more like balance, as it sways smoothly through multi layers and unpredictable twists and turns, that only make the story even more intriguing.

The fantasy world that the author created is really well constructed, properly with sound logic and sense to make the readers believe in such a mystical universe where one group of people (Martial) dominated over another (Scholar) with their knowledge of magical and powerful steel-craft for over 500 years, and if any Scholar is found to either spying on the Martial or trying to overthrow them, then they have to pay it with their blood. The readers will lose themselves in such a cryptic yet striking universe, that has been inspired from the ancient Rome with an Arabic flair.

The characters of this book are well developed and even though they are fictional characters, they are drawn with enough realism, but somewhere the characters scream out "been there, done that" kind of feel. The main character, Laia, is a meek young girl, but whose inner strength and power makes her a perfect heroine for this story where she needed to fight her battles with the help of a dagger and with her wit. Laia will never disappoint the readers with her sweet yet sympathetic demeanor, as the readers will find a way to her heart and will learn to root for her mission till the very end. Elias on the other hand is depicted as a confused young man, but gradually through his battles, he became thoughtful yet he lost a part of himself, his innocence. And meeting with Laia somehow changed him, not romantically but mostly philosophically.

Now the book never once disappoints through it's characterization, or prose or world building, but the romance part diminishes the charm of the book slightly, as there are two love triangles that mar the aura of this timeless and breath taking story. Yet somehow Laia and Elias' special bond is evocatively portrayed with proper emotions that will deeply move the readers for them. The author peels away the central story line so beautifully through the layers of some major twists and turns that the readers will be bound to stay glued to the story line till the very climax that ends with a cliffhanger and that will keep the readers vouching for the next book in the series.

In a nutshell, this is a heart breaking, strong, poignant and highly compelling book that will make the readers turn the pages of this book frantically and where Laia and Elias' fight will make the readers feel one.

Verdict: Riveting, thoroughly painful and something that will not let the readers look away from its intense emotions.

Courtesy: Thanks to the publishers from the Penguin Random House for giving me an opportunity to read and review this book. 

Author Info:
Sabaa Tahir grew up in California’s Mojave Desert at her family’s 18-room motel. There, she spent her time devouring fantasy novels, raiding her brother’s comic book stash and playing guitar badly. She began writing An Ember in the Ashes while working nights as a newspaper editor. She likes thunderous indie rock, garish socks and all things nerd. Sabaa currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family. 
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