From the Back Cover:
Set in a terrifyingly brutal Rome-like world, An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom. It’s a story that’s literally burning to be told.
LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.
ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.
When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.
I just loved this book! An Ember in the Ashes takes place in a fantasy world based on an ancient Roman-type society, where the military reigns supreme beneath the emperor, and people are grouped into a strict class hierarchy.
The story is told in alternating points of view by Elias, golden child of one of the empire's oldest, most influential families, top of his class in the military academy, the poster boy for the future of the empire . . . only he's not so sure he wants any part of it anymore. And by Laia, child of scholars, on the run after witnessing the brutal murder of her parents thanks to her brother's involvement with a group of rebels determined to topple the empire. Disguised as a slave, she infiltrates the academy in a quest for answers. Neither Elias nor Laia could predict what would happen when they crossed paths. As the trials to select the empire's next leader commence, both Elias and Laia will be faced with startling truths about the world they thought they knew, about their places in that world, and about the lengths they are each willing to go to stand up for what they believe in, and to reach for the lives they were meant to live.
This is a fantastically written story with a cast of extremely well-developed characters. Ms. Tahir holds no punches in this brutal world she's created, and I couldn't turn the pages fast enough as Elias and Laia were faced with challenge after challenge, betrayal after betrayal, and a few rare moments of compassion and love. And talk about an ending! I haven't read an edge-of-my-seat, who-will-be-left-standing, for-the-love-of-all-that-is-epic ending like that in a long time. I can't wait for the sequel!
My Rating: 4.5 Stars out of 5
Side note rant: I've seen a few reviewers complain that they don't like this book because rape is such a prevalent threat. And I've seen reviewers make similar statements about other historical novels and television shows, and it's one of my biggest pet peeves. So to these people I say: If THE TRUTH offends your delicate sensibilities, perhaps you should not be reading and/or watching historicals.
This book features an alternate history based on ancient Roman society. The fact is that many Romans considered slaves to be fair game for their sexual urges. You don't have to like it. You can be angered by it. You can be disgusted by it. You're supposed to be. But to turn your nose up in righteous indignation that a writer dared present you with a truth you'd rather remain ignorant of is a slap in the face to every woman who lived and endured in the time periods before yours.
I am thankful to writers who don't attempt to whitewash history for people who would prefer to pretend that things didn't happen the way they did. I am grateful for accurately portrayed time periods because it allows me to see how far we've come and to be thankful for it.
So to the writers who are keeping it real, like Sabaa Tahir: Thank you! To the people who want to pretend history has always been about puppies and rainbows: Go read something else!
*Please Note: This review references an advance copy received from the publisher through the Amazon Vine program. These are my honest and unbiased opinions, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.