A few months ago, I entered a competition to win a copy of Flawed, Cecelia Ahern’s new YA Dystopia book. Together with that, I also won a copy of Dumplin’, and this, An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir.
I will admit to frequent confusion between this and Snow Like Ashes, which I gave my sister for Christmas (and am looking forward to reading next time she comes to visit), but both books had registered on my radar, and were on my long-term to-read list.
I picked this up last week (before Flawed, simply because this was a paperback, and easier to carry around) and was drawn in to a richly-imagined Empire and the stories of two main characters from totally different sides of the tracks, drawn together in a quest to change the world…
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death.
When Laia’s grandparents are brutally murdered and her brother arrested for treason by the empire, the only people she has left to turn to are the rebels.
But in exchange for their help in saving her brother, they demand that Laia spy on the ruthless Commandant of Blackcliff, the Empire’s greatest military academy. Should she fail it’s more than her brother’s freedom at risk . . . Laia’s very life is at stake.
There, she meets Elias, the academy’s finest soldier. But 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.
I loved this book. I don’t know what else to say about it really. I loved everything about it. I loved the brutal Martial Empire. I loved the Scholars and their oppression. I loved the two main characters, Elias and Laia, and their totally different backgrounds and circumstances. I read this book by the light of a bicycle light because my boyfriend was in bed, and he doesn’t have a bedside lamp. I read this book on the tube and only realised when someone touched my shoulder that the train was terminating and I needed to get off. This book captivated me, and I was entranced.
Although this book is written from the POV of two main character – Elias and Laia – the strength, I think, of it lies in the supporting cast and how real they feel. I burn with curiosity to find out what the story is with Cook and her past. I sympathise with the Rebels. I strive to get inside the head of the ruthless Commandant of Blackcliff, and I sympathise with the hard choices Elias has to make. I loved them all (even as I hated some, too) and was drawn in entirely to the series.
This book had loads of things I really liked in it – strong female characters, excellent world-building, hard choices, difficult losses, strange magic, characters with depth and feeling, and above all, a story that really drew me in. Plus gorgeous cover art! It ticked all the boxes for me.
I’m not exaggerating when I say this is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I don’t hesitate in giving it five stars, and putting it on my favourites shelf. This is only the second book this year (of ~70 so far) that has managed that (the other being The Girl From Everywhere), so you know that I really, really liked this.
If I had a complaint about this book, it would be that the story doesn’t end here. I’m not even sure if this is really a complaint. I hate books that end on cliffhangers, and this one doesn’t, really, although it is very clearly set up for a sequel. I’m torn between being annoyed that I have to wait for a sequel and being delighted that I get to re-immerse myself in this world in August, when A Torch Against The Night is released. I’m inclined towards the latter. I look forward to reading anything else Tahir can come up with – if it is anything as good as this, I’m sure I’ll love it!