Monday, August 8, 2016

#Monday Review - An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (Young Adult, Fantasy

Series: An Ember in the Ashes # 1
Format: Ebook, 464 pages
Release Date: April 28, 2015
Publisher: Razorbill
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

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 is the first installment in author Sabaa Tahir's An Ember in the Ashes series. This is a story that alternatives between two main characters. Laia, a 17-year old Scholar girl, and Elias, the son of one of the most dangerous female commanders in the Empire. Let's talk about the comparisons to the Roman Empire for a moment. I am actually on board with this idea. This is a world where there were once Scholars who ruled but were overthrown and now they are not allowed to hoard food, or teach their kids to read. They are in all essence, slaves. As we are made aware of very quickly, Laia has lost almost everything precious to her thanks to the Empire.

"You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will dream, for you are an ember in the ashes." 

Then, she loses her brother Darin to a Mask raid on their home and he is taken away and charged with Treason. Laia now has a clear goal ahead of her; find the resistance who has their own code called Izzat, and hope that they can help her find a way to break Darin out of his prison before he too is lost to her. Laia's encounter with the resistance isn't all happy happy joy joy. It's fraught with some danger, and arrogance, and let's be truthful, they see an opportunity to use a girl who has nothing left and nobody to save her. Especially her parents who were largely responsible for the Resistance when they were alive. The resistance sends her into the den of the worst murderer in the Empire; the Commandant of Blackcliff Military Academy where they hope that Laia can find some useful information. But, Laia finds her own strength instead. She finds support from the most unlikely of places. She finds a connection to a rebel, and she discovers that not all Masks are evil and destructive when she meets Elias.

"This life is not always what we think it will be," Cain says. "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." 

Speaking of Elias Veturius, he is at the top of his class in Blackcliff. He is soon to be graduating after spending 14 years at the school. But, he isn't all that excited, and makes plans to escape right after graduation. Elias's own mother is one of the more interesting villains we will meet in this story. Not only does she hate her own son, but she schemes like nobody's business. Elias only real and true friend in the entire school may be Helene Aquilla. After the dreaded and all seeing Augurs show up at the school and throws Elias's plans into disarray, Elias is chosen to be one of the four who will compete for the title of the next Emperor as well as his Blood Shrike. This is a competition that is bloody, and tests the four competitors in every way possible. But, will Elias give up his dream of escaping after meeting Laia? Or, will he become the man his own mother won't recognize.

Now, let's talk about Helene. I dare say that I am looking forward to the next book since it appears that she will play an even larger role. That is if you really trust the synopsis. Helene is the only female mask in the entire school. She keeps telling everyone, including Elias, that everyone underestimates her. So, yes, I understand her choices in the end. I understand that she had to put her life in the hands of someone so awful, so wrong, and so evil, (Yes, I am speaking about YOU, Marcus) that to do otherwise would have left her in a bad way. Let's also talk about the constant threats of rape against Helene, and the other female slaves. Can we for one damn minute please for the love of the Goddess stop this insanity? You can write an entertaining book without any rape scene. You can talk about a character being raped, but let's not actually write a scene into the book. Thanks!

Why the curious rating you ask? First, let's ignore the fact that I am truly curious as to why all fingers are being pointed at Laia for being ignorant, or stupid in choosing to trust people she just met. Let's ask reviewers why they are shocked by the Rebellions reaction to her being hurt so often. Then, let's ask the question we've all wanted to ask. What would YOU do if your only remaining family member was taken away from you? What lengths would you go through in order to ensure he wasn't permanently eliminated? How much abuse, and strife, and heartbreak will you be willing to accept if it meant saving your own flesh and blood? Damned if I would have made the deal she made with Elias, but we'll see how it works out in the sequel.

In the end, An Ember in the Ashes is a story that is filled with action, suspense, adventure, betrayals, heartache, and political shenanigans. I really enjoyed this story except for the strange twisted intermingle shenanigans 
between Laia, Elias, Helene, and another character named Keenan. I actually have no qualms about what either main character chooses to do in order to survive. I loved the environment of the school. I even liked the challenge which forced each competitor do dig deep in order not to be failed out of the competition. I am not sure where my feelings are when it comes to Cain and his Augurs. Hopefully that will be sorted out by the author.

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