Genre: YA High Fantasy
Page Length: 443 Pages
Publication Date: April 28th, 2015
Source: ARC via publisher (thanks Razorbill!)
Set in a terrifyingly brutal Rome-like world, An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom. It’s a story that’s literally burning to be told.
LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.
ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.
When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.
The Martials are war-like people who conquered the knowledge-seeking Scholars. The Martials are brutal rulers who conquer and force people into submission. They rule with an iron-tight fist and induce pain left and right. Sabaa's imagination ran rampant as she created such a detailed world and society. The Roman-esque flair was fascinating and coupled the overall feel of the book very well. There's a bit of magic at play as well.
Ember follows two protagonists in dual points of view, Laia, a Scholar, and Elias, a Martial solider. Laia's brother is accused of being a rebel and is imprisoned. Grief-stricken and having nowhere else to go, Laia seeks out the rebels and urges them to save her brother. In return for their help she must spy on the Empire for the rebels. Throughout this book we see Laia go through tremendous growth as she shifts from her timid and cowardice nature towards a bold and fiercely brave side. Elias' character was most relatable as he struggled to determine where his loyalties laid and questioned the morality of his surroundings. His conflicting feelings felt very realistic. The other characters are all extremely well written and portrayed. They each have a complex set of desires and feelings that twist and fuse and fight with others.
As the emperor's filial line is about to end, a new emperor must be chosen. Elias is selected to compete in the Trials, a set of tests that will determine who the new ruler will be. Through these trials traumatizing things happen along with a few new elements introduced. Lots of action and blood and sweat ensues.
The romance gets a bit confusing as both Elias and Laia have their own complicated relationships yet are inexplicably drawn to one another. I wouldn't call this a love triangle (or even two), yet I think I confused my ships a bit. The romance(s) had a slow burn gradual feel to it. Every touch is important, every glance filled with longing sets us readers on fire.
Sabaa's writing is fantastic. In a mere 440 pages she wrote and balanced two points of views, matched them with different voices, filled the pages with an addictive plot, and introduced a new world to readers. Ember was captivating from cover to cover. I think some people might find a slight pacing issue. There's a perfect blend of intrigue, politics, romance, and action in the novel. I really enjoyed the multiple twists this story seems to pull out of thin air. There's a cautious edge to this story throughout, we're quickly turning the pages to see if the threats will consume our characters and if these embers in the ashes will rise. The ending was intense and crazy and phenomenal.
As of right now Ember is a standalone, yet I could definitely do with another book! If you're looking for a new epic fantasy series with descriptive characters and a brutal roman-esque feel then this is the book for you.