Series: An Ember in the Ashes #1
Published by HarperCollins Australia, Voyager on April 28, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
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Set in a terrifyingly brutal Rome-like world, An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom. It's a story that's literally burning to be told. LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire's greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution. ELIAS is the academy's finest soldier-- and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he's ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor. When Laia and Elias's paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself. Vow your blood and body to the empire. Keep your heart for yourself.
An Ember in the Ashes is both your worse nightmare and a dream come true. For one, it paints a horrible society where scholars are forced out of their homes to be slaves by the Empire, ruled by ruthless, hardened soldiers. But what a journey it presents, one of love, honour, courage and redemption, for a scholarly slave girl and an elite soldier of the Empire, a Mask.
It launches straight into the action with Laia’s family being taken from her and her brother captured. To save her brother, Laia becomes a spy for the resistance and becomes a slave to the Empire’s Commandant. While some would regard her as weak, I could tell Laia was a sleeping dragon, biding her time and making all the right allies. We see her tortured, beaten and ordered around, but she never loses her fire and strength. She’s not run by fear, rather an undercurrent of courage and determination who will get her way. Although I’m not sure why she didn’t question her situation a bit more, banking her life on some flimsy promises without some concrete answers about her brother’s whereabouts.
What voice do I listen to? The spy or the slave? The fighter or the coward? I thought the answers to such questions would be easy. That was before I learned what real fear was. – Laia
The perspective I was really enthralled with was Elias’s. As an elite soldier, the empire’s Mask, Elias wants nothing but to plan his escape from their heavy handed ways. But he’s promised his freedom to stay put and complete the trials to plan out who becomes the Emperor and his General. There were moments where the trials that Elias had to undergo had me absolutely horrified, with the Masks being faced with increasingly difficult trials that they will have no choice but to participate in. The mutual attraction with his best friend Helene, his longing to escape and his fate will all clash here.
The ‘romance’ could be described as a not quite love square. You’ve got:
- Elias and his confusing feelings for his best friend Helene
- Elias and Laia, who have an interest in each other
- Laia and Keenan, the handsome resistance soldier who flirts with her
I love best friend romances, so there’s no surprise who I shipped. Elias and Helen have the most complex relationship, and they got the most development out of the above. Although there wasn’t too much romance, this is the way I like it, subtle, present, but weaved into the overall plot so that it doesn’t take over.
“You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”
While the plot and character relationships were multi-layered, An Ember in the Ashes lacked solid world-building around how the Empire and the Masks, the Augurs and the Scholar’s predicament came to be. It’s simply described as an ancient Rome-like world, but it also had supernatural creatures such as Jinn, wraiths and sand efrits, not to mention religious Augurs who can predict and dictate what happens. While parts of this intriguing world were built into the story, the historical information would have helped really bring it all together.
Brutal, complex and absolutely riveting, An Ember in the Ashes really swept me away with it’s multi-layered plot and complex character relationships. There’s different power plays, a brewing resistance and so much at stake for both Elias and Laia, and I was absolutely hooked. With the brutal cliffhanger at the end, the next book couldn’t come soon enough!
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Thank you to Harper Voyager for sending me this book for review.