Author: Sabaa Tahir
Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Publication Date: April 28, 2015
Publisher: Razorbill (Random House)
Number of Pages: 464
Narrators: Laia and Elias
Quality Rating: 87.98
What’s It About?
Laia is a “Scholar,” the oppressed class in a world divided between masters and slaves. When the remainder of her family is slain by her oppressors and her one remaining brother is taken captive, she goes out in search of the only people she believes can help–The Resistance. This ruthless band of rebels agrees to help free her brother with one condition: she must become a spy for them. Secretly working for the Resistance, Laia must become a personal servant of the most feared woman in existence–the cruel and merciless commander of the oppressive regime that slaughtered her family.
Meanwhile, Elias is graduating from the military academy to become a “Mask,” the murderous infantry of the ruling class that oppresses, exploits, harasses the slaves of the land. Elias hates the violence and despairs over the blood which will inevitably fall on his hands. Not only is he destined to become the very thing he despises, but he also has the misfortune of being the son of a mother who hates him–the commander of the army. Despite risking torture and execution, he plans to desert the empire before they can make him a muderer.
Just as he is about the leave, he is persuaded to stay by an Augur–the empire’s class of wisemen, in order to fulfill an obscure destiny. Shortly after deciding to remain, Elias and several of his classmates are selected to perform in the Trials–a prophesied and long awaited event whose victor becomes the next emperor and losers are promptly executed. As the Trials begin and Elias’s world becomes interwoven with Laia’s, both characters must fight to overcome their bleak circumstances and attain their own forms of freedom.
Should You Read It?
If you enjoy darker young adult, dystopian fantasy, you will probably love this book. It’s a lot like Red Queen and The Fire Sermon in terms of class divisions, but the divisions are less on genetic lines and more simply on political lines. Although there is a vague semblance of a love triangle, the attraction between characters is less composed of flighty romance and more composed of shared identity and purpose. The story is told in alternating narration between the two protagonists–giving the reader insight into what it’s like to be both the oppressor and the oppressed. Themes include the interplays of betrayal and friendship, slavery and freedom, cruelty and mercy, and death and survival. While classified as YA, the realities of an oppressive regime are not hidden–and the resulting tone is somewhat dismal. And, while there are certainly dystopian and fantasy elements, the writing is layered and somewhat complex–so it would also be appealing to those interested in more literary works. If this sounds appealing to you, I would definitely pick this book up.
Links and References
Author Information: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Book Reviews: New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, Redeye Chicago
Purchase: Buy It On Amazon.com
Other Books By Sabaa Tahir: An Ember in the Ashes is Sabaa Tahir’s debut novel.