‘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.’
Where do I start with this book? It was crazy good. Written by Sabaa Tahir, An Ember In The Ashes is gripping, compelling, infuriating, sad, inspiring and exciting all rolled into 448 pages. This is the kind of book that captivates and stirs a lot of emotion. It highlights the depth of humanity’s evil and shows that even in the toughest of circumstances, hope and love can prevail.
One of the ever-present questions that came across my mind when reading this books was, when being subject to the will of others, to what scale do our choices really affect an outcome? If we are seen to have no control of our lives, then do we believe that we are lost, or do we fight anyway? To me, this book is an excellent example of why the human spirit is so important. It highlights the key components of what it takes to succeed against all odds: that is, conviction, faith, love and a right to live freely.
‘Fear can be good, Laia. It can keep you alive. But don’t let it control you. Don’t let it sow doubts within you. When the fear takes over, use the only thing more powerful, more indestructible, to fight it: your spirit. Your heart.’
Set in a fantasy world inspired by ancient Rome, An Ember In The Ashes is a novel about tyranny, oppression and the fight for freedom. The story is told from the perspectives of the two main characters, Elias and Laia. The two could not be more opposite, or so it seems, however we learn that they both have a common goal- to be free from the Empire. Laia is a Scholar- a society of people ruled and enslaved by the Empire- of which most live in poverty and in service of their oppressors. Elias is a Martial and even more so, a mask- The Empire’s masked soldiers- and is the son of the Commandant- an evil bitch who runs the Blackcliff (the Empires military academy).
The story begins when Laia’s family home is raided by the Empire and a Mask kills her grandparents and the Empire arrests her brother, Darin, for treason. Desperate to free him from the Empire, Laia turns to the rebels- who oppose the Empire- and they agree to help free Darin, on one condition- that Laia spy on the Commandant of Blackcliff. She is sold into slavery and subject to the commandant’s every wish. All in the hope that the rebels can free her brother. Big risk, right?
At Blackcliff she is beaten, scarred, threatened with rape and stripped of her identity. In every sense of the word, she is a slave. She’s worthless. She meets Elias, the academy’s best soldier and the son of the ruthless Commandant. Masks are evil killers that the Empire trains to be sufficient, brutal and heartless soldiers- bringers of terror and order. Why should Elias be any different? After all, he’s the best of them. However, Elias wants out. He hates the Empire and is faced with a series of difficult choices. Stay and become everything he hates, or leave and become much worse?
What follows is a brilliant sequence of events that capture the lengths a person will go to to see freedom and the struggle between duty, honour and love. This is not a sappy young-adult love story. This novel is brutal, sad, angering and inspiring. It is written with conviction and such fluidity that I didn’t want to put it down. When I finished the last sentence I couldn’t help but to reflect on what I would do if faced with the same scenario. This book is bloody brilliant. On the back cover there is a quote from Brandon Sanderson that reads, ‘Tahir shows us light in darkness, hope in a world of despair, and the human spirit reaching for greatness in difficult times’, and I couldn’t agree more.
Do yourself a favour and go buy a copy. You won’t regret it, especially because it’s sequel, A Torch Against The Night will be released in August 2016, which I am super excited about. I am so happy that I found this series. Enjoy.
‘I look up at the stars hanging low in a sky that makes me think I’m seeing the infinite. But beneath their cold gaze, I feel small. All the beauty of the stars mean nothing when life here on earth is so ugly.’