An Ember In The Ashes

emberAs Emily can attest, I am a huge fan of any book with a Roman feel to it. I love historical fiction set in the Roman Empire, but I also love new worlds that are influenced by Roman culture, like Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse. However, even more exciting than a world based on Roman times is a world that blends Roman culture with Eastern culture in one epic tale.

Sabba Tahir’s book An Ember In The Ashes¬†follows two main protagonists. On one hand, there is Laia. Laia is part of a family and people group at the bottom of the social pecking order. Her parents, famous revolutionaries, are both dead, and she lives with her older brother and grandparents. But when her brother is arrested and her grandparents killed, she agrees to become a spy in order to save her brother. She’s sent to spy on the leader of a prestigious military school by posing as a slave. As a slave, she’s abused and beaten and almost killed several times, but her love for her brother and her determination to save him keep her going despite all risks.

Then there is Elias. Elias is one of the top students at said military school. His mother is the woman abusing and beating Lia, though their relationship is anything but loving. Elias is troubled by the ways of the world, having more compassion and morality than his peers. He wants to escape the torture and evil that is this empire, but instead he gets roped into competing to be its next emperor. Meanwhile, he’s also trying to sort out his feelings for Lia and his best friend/fellow student/fellow competitor Helene.

Sabaa Tahir

Sabaa Tahir

There are so many aspects about this book that I adored. Laia and Elias are both great narrators, and the supporting characters (even the bad ones) are great. The drama between all the characters really sucks you in as a reader. I couldn’t put this book down. It was refreshing to have a new spin on the traditional love triangle, where the boy is confused over his feelings for two girls. Though, Lia also had feelings for two different boys. But I enjoyed a circumstance where the boy had to figure out how he felt about two girls rather than one girl who had two boys pining after her.

I like that Laia is strong, but also weak in some aspects. She is very human, afraid of scary things but willing to face them for her brother’s sake. I like that Helene is a total badass, a strong girl in the midst of a sea of boys, but she’s not just strong. She has feelings and emotions like a girl, and is sometimes weak as well. I think that’s one of the key aspects to creating human characters. People are strong and brave, but we also have weakness and get scared.

And, as I hinted at earlier, the world building is incredible. The school and characters in/from the school have a very Roman feel, but the mythology is very Eastern. And with the competitions to be emperor, this was everything I wanted The Hunger Games books to be. Tahir blends these two cultures to create a new and interested setting for her story. She’s totally drawn me in, and I cannot wait for book 2!!!