Author: Sabaa Tahir
Genre: YA, Romance, Fiction
Link to Goodreads: link
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
Butterflies and big, dumb boys. Enemies to lovers and moral greyness for days. I bought into every character and conceit. I cringed and I cried.
I’ve been on a serious YA binge this year, but An Ember in The Ashes still felt like a palate cleanser. The cheesiness is the delicious kind, trickling through the story like some kind of delicious cheese fountain. And occasionally you get hit with teensy goodies like, “Dawn is still a blue rumor on the horizon,” or “his hands are slow and gentle as candle flame.” Tabir’s writing can be brutal, but it’s also really sensual. And all while being a totally PG YA novel!
The story is Multi-POV, but it never lingers too long on one perspective or one inner dialogue. You might be bored if you want a brand-new plot structure (or brand-new anything YA-wise), but if you’re looking for perfectly delivered YA fantasy, complete with quasi-assassin schools and trials and orphans and other Just YA things…again, it’s done PERFECTLY here.
What it holds back in as far as romance it more than makes up for in cruelty. These poor characters do not get a break (except for when they occasionally pause to have romantic dances and look longingly into one another’s eyes and almost kiss before quickly getting back to almost dying). The stakes are high and they stay high—not in a fatiguing way, but in a way that keeps the pages turning. Again—the characters are good, but it was the pacing for me. I read the whole thing in a single day. On the metro, in the library, eating…it didn’t matter.
I’m truly baffled as to why this series doesn’t have the kind of buzz Grishaverse or SJM series do.
SPOILERS BELOW HERE!!!!
bc I could not figure out the ‘read more’ block
(ELIAS CLEANING HIS GRIEVES?? I know he just ****** most of his friends but that scene…whew.)
Maybe it was just a right timing kind of thing. I really enjoyed reading about a really hot girl whose milkshake brought ALL the boys to the yard. I mean, damn, I would love some of whatever it is Laia’s got. The magic of being a YA fantasy heroine, I guess. Though I agree with other commentary that says her depth comes from her cowardice, not her courage. It makes her unique. Her inner monologue is not at all…hero-ish. (Elias’ is, but that’s okay because his Big Dumb Boy energy makes it all worth it.) It’s also fun reading about brooding warriors with Chosen One arcs, okay. I’m only human.