An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
For a quick and easy start to a series, for a fairly familiar read that keeps you engaged enough
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.
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 was good enough that I read it without issue and will probably continue the series, but it wasn’t good enough to make me need to continue the series immediately.
I think the cover is pretty generic looking, and something about it just feels lackluster to me. Maybe the white background? Maybe the unnatural smoothness of the faces? Maybe the simple coloring? I don’t know why — but that was also the vibe I got with the story. As I was going through, the characters and plot all felt like things I’d read before. That’s not necessarily bad, since a good story told well is one I’ll read over and over again. And like I said, I read this book consistently, and it never felt like it dragged, and I enjoyed it.
But I wasn’t blown away.
Reflecting on it now, I think part of my issue was that some things felt like they were done in a really obvious, cheesy way. The title of the book, for example, and the way it linked within the story, pretty much came down to characters just being told that they are “an ember in the ashes.” Okay, I get the metaphor, and it clearly links people who will be important, but… kind of lacking subtlety and nuance, no?
There was some romantic side moments tossed in, but it was definitely not the focus. There were probably 5 scenes where romance was the focus, and it was usually tossed aside in favor of some immediate crisis pretty quickly. The action came fast, and the story didn’t have any slow points (except maybe the beginning because for some reason it took me a bit to get into it). There are a some cool action scenes and puh-lenty of dramatic fighting, so if that’s your jam, this is your peanut butter!
The characters were pretty meh for me the whole way through, and I think that’s also a bit of what kept this from elevating for me. I don’t really care about (or like) any of them. They’re not unlikeable, I just don’t like them. Neutral, I suppose. Like someone at a party who is inoffensive and fine for light conversation, but we’re just not clicking and I’ll probably find some other people in the meantime to chat with. (In this case, I’ll find some other books to read in the meantime, and maybe I’ll wander back to this conversation at some point).
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