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.
I've already named An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir one of my favorite books of 2015, and probably one of my favorite books ever. This book absolutely blew me away. It took me a long time to even find the words to describe how much I absolutely loved this book. Obviously, with that lead-in, it's clear I gave it 5/5 STARS.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.
This book is not a light read--let me make that clear. You should not pick up this book unless you are ready for some pretty heavy themes, and some heavy feelings. I'm not talking lovey-dovey, will-they-kiss, who-will-she-choose emotions. I'm talking, HOLY-SHIT-WILL-SHE-LIVE!?! Emotions. Emotions with a capitol E. Because you don't know. You do not know, while reading Tahir's amazing writing, that any character is safe. Because they aren't. She proves that again and again. This book kept me reading because I was genuinely concerned for the lives of these characters that I become attached to. This book is dark, there are definitely some serious, scary themes here--torture, murder, child abuse, rape, and slavery, to name a few. But they truly ADD to the story. They are all there, and everything happens with a purpose and a reason.
I pre-ordered this book on my Kindle. And then about halfway through, ordered it in hardcover, and if you follow me on Twitter, you know that immediately after I finished it, I launched a giveaway for a copy. Because I had to share it.
An Ember in the Ashes is told from the perspective of two characters--Laia, who trades pretending to be a slave in order to spy on the elite military academy to the rebels for a promise to rescue her brother from police custody, and Elias, a promising soldier at said academy. I enjoyed both perspectives equally (which is not usually the case for me), and I greatly enjoyed that they told two, actually separate perspectives. Too often, multiple points of view are simply re-hashing the same idea, and this book did not do that. I felt that every moment in both character's heads was necessary, exciting, and engrossing.
If I had to choose, however, I would say that I preferred Laia to Elias, because Laia had some raw and real emotions. I felt that her reactions and responses were as true to life as this hellish place could be. She was truly terrified, honestly angry, and clearly heartbroken, in a way that made her physically present while you were reading. Elias was great, and the ruling class perspective is usually my favorite in fantasy books, but Laia felt so real to me.
I will admit, my only complaint about this book was the rebels. All of the characters that were part of those sections of the story were eye-roll worthy to me. I wish there had been fewer, more flushed out characters. If you've read the book, and since this is spoiler-free, I won't name names, but the particular male character was especially annoying to me.
Otherwise, this book was magnificent perfection. If you haven't read it, read it! Seriously. Now.