Summary: 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.
Source: I purchased a hardcover.
An Ember in the Ashes was awesome. There was a lot of hype surrounding the book, both online and in the bookstore, so I was a bit scared that it would be somewhat disappointing. I was afraid it would be a cool concept with a terrible execution, like so many overhyped books, or it would borrow from too many other YA concepts and seem somewhat of a ripoff, like Red Queen.
Fortunately, An Ember in the Ashes ended up being a refreshing YA fantasy with a ton of originality and focus on the plot. It seems like a love story in the synopsis because it highlights Laia and Elias. Instead, those two characters are the dual POVs. While they do share a connection, the book is less of a forbidden romance with high stakes and more of a dangerous fantasy with death, violence, and rebellion.
The dual POV worked out well as the storylines of Laia and Elias came together on occasion. Laia was a Scholar, a race now enslaved and inferior. Her family was killed, except for her brother, so she ended up contacting the Resistance for help in freeing him. They sent her on a mission to spy from inside the military academy as a slave for the Commandant, who was literally the most terrifying person on the planet. Elias was a Martial, a member of the ruling class, who was training in the academy. The Commandant was his mother, though their relationship was virtually nonexistent. He was a fine soldier, one of the best, despite a growing need inside of him to escape the life of violence. Without knowing it, Laia and Elias shared similar outlooks on life.
I thought the two characters would meet, find out they shared some interests in not being privy to violence and oppression, love each other, and then somehow work together to overthrow the whole system because that’s kind of what every YA novel would do in that situation. I was surprised that the story didn’t really do that at all.
An Ember in the Ashes dealt with war, violence, and oppression. The world was full of legends, myths, and otherworldly aspects, though none of them are considered real. At one point, the Scholars ruled the world, but were later overthrown by Martials. The ruling class had no use for knowledge, curiosity, and storytelling. Instead, their lives focused on strength, strategy, and survival. Still, there were beings with power in unexpected places. Elias was forced to make some decisions about his future as a Martial and it was harder to do once the Trials began and he was a key player. Laia had a lot to learn about the past, her family, and what the Resistance was up to. She had to juggle being the slave for a person who seemed to know every secret and contacting the Resistance with useful information so they could free her brother.
I highly recommend the book and I can’t wait for the next book to release. I was stunned by how well written the book was and how it avoided so many YA tropes that would have made it a little more forgettable. I was definitely impressed.