In the fantastical, dystopian world of An Ember in the Ashes, the Scholars, a once powerful and educated people, live under the ruthless Martial Empire, which has kept them in poverty and illiterate for generations. Told from two perspectives, An Ember in the Ashes opens on the night of a Martial raid on the house of Laia, a Scholar, and her family. When her brother Darin is arrested for treason, Laia flees the scene and goes in search of the only group of people that can help her, the Resistance. Unfortunately their help comes with certain expectations and Laia soon finds herself within the walls of Blackcliff Military Academy, working as a slavegirl and spying on the ruthless Commandant.
The second perspective comes from Elias, a soldier and Mask of the Martial Empire. Just days away from graduation and becoming one of the Martial Empires most feared soldiers, Elias should be proud and celebrating his success, but he has a terrible secret. A secret that he keeps even from those that are closest to him. A secret, that if uncovered would surely destroy him. When approached by an Auger, an ancient group of mystics that use their knowledge of prophecies to influence and manipulate present and future events, Elias is forced to choose between a life of freedom away from the constricting walls of the Academy or staying and fulfilling his destiny.
Brimming with intrigue, mystery and action, gripping and provoking strong emotions from the opening lines, the advanced praise and buzz for An Ember in the Ashes has just been amazing and deservedly so. Sabaa Tahir’s debut has captivated and engrossed readers of all ages and why shouldn’t it; An Ember in the Ashes covers all the basis of your typical YA novel, including social inequality, rebellion of the oppressed, strong female and male characters, loyalty, friendships and provides a healthy dose of social commentary.
But don’t be fooled people because An Ember in the Ashes is anything but a typical YA read. First of all, this book is dark, at times gruesome and there are some evil, horrible people doing unbearably hurtful and horrifying things to human beings. There are definitely no unicorns and rainbows anywhere to be found. And you know what, that’s okay because it’s so honest and real. The characters that Sabaa Tahir has created are strong and imperfect, they have doubts and show fear, make mistakes. They love, grieve and hate like all humans do. Their relationships are complex, involved and messy. These characters are making choices that have devastating consequences, they are sacrificing themselves for their friends, their loved ones, for their beliefs. I guarantee that you will care about some and hate others. They will make you laugh and cry, enrage you and disgust you and at the end, when all is said and done, they will stay with you.
But what captivated me, impressed me and earned my utmost respect was Sabaa Tahir’s writing. To say that it is simply intelligent is to do it a disservice because it is so much more than that. Through her words she is uplifting the reader, demanding their attention, showing them respect, and seeing them as equal. It’s true, that there are some horrific moments in this book, but at no time is it gratuitous or unnecessary. There is no ‘dumbing down’ of the writing, there are no cheaply devised tricks to hold the reader’s interest or create a fantastical plot twist to explain an awkwardly constructed storyline. I can’t convey enough what a refreshing change this is from some of the YA out there that takes an unfortunate sensationalistic approach, pandering to the reader’s perceived need for instant gratification. With An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir has restored my faith in the art of writing and storytelling.
An Ember in the Ashes was an absolutely amazingly awesome read. I am so happy that I got a chance to read this wonderfully crafted story and hope to read many more novels by Sabaa Tahir in the future.