I was really worried about reading An Ember in the Ashes, because I’ve come pretty late to the party and so many people have adored it and there’s been a crazy amount of hype that I worried that my expectations would be too high and it would fall flat.
Well, I needn’t have worried! This is a great book!
Told from dual viewpoints, An Ember in the Ashes is the story of Laia, a slave, and Elias, a soldier, both of whom are shackled to the empire they live in. Laia lives with her grandparents and brother, carefully living under the radar of the brutal Martial Empire, until their home is raided one evening by soldiers and her brother is dragged off to prison. Desperate, Laia makes a deal with resistance fighters: she’ll sell herself as a slave to the Martials for the chance to spy on them and in exchange for her information the resistance will break her brother out of prison.
Meanwhile, Elias is training to become a Mask, one of the empire’s elite soldiers. Disillusioned with the empire, he is planning to desert until he is drawn into a contest from which there’s no escape. He and Laia meet and their fates become entwined.
The empire in An Ember in the Ashes is similar to the Roman Empire and the Scholar race is similar to the Ancient Greeks, who the Romans enslaved. Hang on, I thought. Haven’t I just read something like this? And yes, I have. The setting is pretty much identical to The Winner’s Curse. I did wonder how much I’d enjoy this book, bearing in mind I’ve literally just finished a book with practically the same setting where a slave falls in love with a martial, but the books are so wildly different that it wasn’t a problem at all.
The writing style is incredibly sensational (I lost count of the number of times rape was used as a threat), but because there’s so much plot going on it actually fits quite well. The pacing was exactly right for me, in that it was incredibly fast, with plenty going on, especially towards the end where everything goes to hell (that’s not a spoiler - you just know it’s all going to go horribly wrong!)
I thought the dual POV worked okay - the two voices were very separate and I really connected with both Laia and Elias. And as someone who is generally Not A Fan of love triangles, the dual love triangle (yeah, there are two - does that make it a love square?) in this worked well. I guess it was because they were included as yet another trial in an already-packed plot, rather than just as tension to perk up a dull plot.
I have to say, though, that I didn’t find Elias as swoony as other people have. I like him plenty as a character, and I did ship him and Laia, but he didn’t really float my boat.
When I was reading this I was under the impression that this was a standalone. Imagine my horror, therefore, when I got to the end of the book and the action just suddenly stops. I was convinced that my book was missing like the last six chapters or something. I have since learnt that Sabaa Tahir is now writing a sequel, which makes a lot of sense.
I would definitely recommend this book - although it has massive amounts of hype surrounding it, in this case the fangirling is totally justified. A truly cracking read.