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.
An Ember in the Ashes is one of those weirdos. The kind of book that lead to me writing an endless list of notes on things I don’t like about it but somehow I’m still enjoying it a whole lot and don’t want to stop reading. Hence my rating of four out of five stars even though I have a lot of rather negative things to say about it.
First off there is the writing style. Obviously there was something about it that I liked or I wouldn’t have been unable to stop reading this. I flew through this story and didn’t want to stop until I’ve reached the end. It felt so repetitive though. I lost count on how many times these characters looked deeply into each other’s eyes, how many times their eyes/eye lashes were described.
What also bothered me was the dual POV. Usually it’s something that I love but in this case it didn’t work all that well for me. This was mainly because Sabaa always made the switch right when a situation got interesting. There were a lot of chapters that ended in kind of a cliffhanger and then switched the point of view. That completely interrupted my reading flow and I sometimes had a hard time getting back into the situation after she switched back again.
What I liked a lot was the world building. The back story was super interesting and when things like ghouls started to appear, I was completely hooked. I hope we get to see a lot more of this in the next book.
I also loved that this was a rather dark story, where a lot of bad things happened to these characters and you see them deal with it. What confused me though was that on the one hand there was a part that was so extreme, so brutal and shocking that it seemed like it was only there to do just that, to shock, but didn’t have its right place in the story. On the other hand we have Laia in a situation that a lot of other girls have been in before, but they fared a lot worse than her. It felt to me like she couldn’t go through the same horrible things because she had to stay the pretty, unbroken love interest. And it didn’t even make sense that she handled this situation so much better than every other girl before her. She actually should have done worse.
What made me question my own rating and me enjoying this so much, is that I also wasn’t too fond of the characters. It took me a long time until I started to care about them and it was mainly Elias’ POV that I was interested in. It just didn’t click with me and these characters. The character dynamics weren’t the best either, especially the romance. It often just didn’t feel right to me and rather forced when they interacted.
And at last there is this whole secrecy thing that’s going on. I don’t mind keeping certain facts from characters as long as it doesn’t make them look stupid by not finding out already. In this case though I was sometimes annoyed that I knew things because they were so damn obvious, but the characters took forever to get behind them.
Why did I enjoy this so much? I seriously can’t tell but I know I did and as I rate books according to how much I enjoy them, I decided to still give it four stars. Even though there were so many things that bothered me, I still very much want to read the next book and can’t wait to find out what happens next.