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.
When I started reading An Ember in the Ashes, I was afraid that it would be just another popular YA fantasy. I haven’t been the greatest fan of the genre–I want to be, and I am, in theory, but I always seem to like the ones that aren’t in the limelight, and I’m underwhelmed by the ones that are. I’m just a rebel that way.
But once I started connecting with the characters, things really picked up and I was not able to put this down. The story shifts between two points of view: Laia, the Scholar-turned spy/slave, and Elias, the Commandant’s son and next expected Emperor. The two of them are on a destined path that is merging towards each other, but how it will connect is a dark and winding way.
The tone of the book is very cavelike. You can feel the dark walls pressing in on you always. What is going to come around the corner next? Battles wage in the shadows, and there might be hints of fire, but they are quickly tamped out. Everything is a clash of steel and smoke, and you need to hide your secrets always.
I shouldn’t doubt books like I do. I’ve been jaded by too many similar ones, I guess. I’m glad I hung on, though, for this one. An Ember in the Ashes is a beautifully written story full of mystery and enchantment, villainry and shade. And the cast of characters is extremely diverse too! I can’t wait to read the second book!