by Bronto Incognito
An Ember in the Ashes
by Sabaa Tahir
Age: Young Adult
Series: 1 of 2 (Next one releases in August)
Contains: DEATH. Not described in gory detail, but death all around. Also, lots of references to rape or the possibility of being raped–an attempted rape does occur withing this book. Physical torture. Mild swearing and magical beasties.
“You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”
Similar to: Blood Red Road by Moira Young, Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (in its depictions of the brutality of war)
Where to even begin with this amazing novel? “Laia is a slave.Elias is a soldier.Neither is free.”
Such a fun, suck-you-in read!!!! Told in alternating perspectives, the story follows Laia as her brother is arrested by the Marshals and the dreaded Masks on suspicion of treason. She tracks down a group of rebels to help free him and finds herself undercover as a slave at Blackcliff, the nightmare school where Masks are trained–run by the most feared and deadly woman in the realm.
Elias is only a few short days away from freedom. Once he and his best friend Helene graduate, he will betray her by slipping off his Mask and running away. He will become a deserter.
But then the augurs tell him something to make him stop–leave, and you can find freedom. Run now, and you will become the worst kind of evil–everything you’re trying to avoid becoming. So he stays.
And now we get to the good stuff!
First off, like I mentioned in the beginning, there are a lot of rape references. Laia is a Scholar and her people are under the rule of Elias’s people. And if a Mask or a Marshal decides they want something from you, there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Blackcliff only trains one girl every few decades. It’s all boys being trained to be ruthless, brutal killers. So the danger for Helene and the female slaves at the school is very real. The Commandant (Laia’s owner and head of Blackcliff) warns her that it won’t be long until she’s raped. Maybe if she’s lucky she’ll piss off the Commandant before then and when the Commandant decides to exact revenge by disfiguring her, it’ll deter the boys.
Pleasant, huh? The world here is inspired by ancient Rome and Arabic legends, but it doesn’t take place there. This world is straight fantasy.
But onto Elias and his mask! So all of these guys wear silver-colored masks made from some kind of metal that BINDS TO THEIR FACES over time. That’s right, it melds into them until it becomes a part of them. Only Elias takes his off in secret every chance he gets. And people have been talking about why is mask hasn’t melded to his face yet. He wants to escape more than anything in the world, but the augur’s warning holds him. But how much can he trust the creepy, red-eyed, ambiguous immortals?
Laia’s in the same boat. She can’t trust anyone at Blackcliff, even the other slaves. If the Commandant knows you’re friends with someone, she’s harm them to punish you. Laia can’t take that risk. And the longer she’s at Blackcliff, the less she’s trusting the rebels that are supposed to be helping her.
Laia is strong. Not physically but in her determination and loyalty to her brother. Elias constantly feels weak. No matter what he seems to do, he seems to be becoming the evil, vile killer he fears. And the magical beasties–ghouls and the like–that he never believed in seem to be real.
Which is awesome.
Seriously, this book is a thrill. Danger around every corner. Who do you trust? Probably no one. My only complaint was in listening to the audiobook. Too quiet. Especially the guy reading Elias. I listen while doing things like dishes or laundry, and if there was any other noise in the room I had to pause the book until the water turned off. He was good, just too quiet to hear.
So excited that the second book is coming out in few months. Can’t wait to see what happens to these two! Also, you should check out the author’s website to see her playlists she made for her characters. Here’s the link to Helene’s playlist!