Author: Sabaa Tahir
An Ember In The Ashes is a fantastic debut by Sabaa Tahir, one that has caught the attention of Paramount Pictures and is already optioned. It is brave, it is bold and it is not for the faint-hearted.
This book is something very different for our book club, I don’t think we have had a fantasy title, so I think this is very exciting and I will look forward to hearing what our readers have to say about it.
The story is told from two first person perspectives in alternating chapters, and Laia and Elias have two very different perspectives. Born to different peoples of the Empire they are sworn enemies but their destinies may just be intertwined.
The Martials conquered Scholar lands half a millenia ago and have kept the Scholars downtrodden ever since. Laia has lived with fear for most of her life, fear of the Empire and fear of the Martials. She lives with her grandparents and her brother, a simple existence helping Nan with cooking and jams for the traders and learning healing from Pop. Until the night they are raided and she is the only one left of her family.
Laia runs, hoping only to survive the night and find the Resistance.
Elias is a Martial just days away from graduating Blackcliff Academy as a Mask, one of the elite Empire soldiers. The problem is Elias doesn’t want to graduate, he doesn’t want to become a Mask and he certainly doesn’t want to become an Empire killing machine. He doesn’t agree with the Empire on most things and just wants to be free from the killing and the Empire rule. This might prove to be a little difficult for the heir of one of the Empire’s leading Martial families, and only son of the Commandant of Blackcliff Academy.
Laia finds the Resistance and is given a mission, one that no-one thought she could possibly succeed in, to spy on the Commandant of Blackcliff Academy. Her time as the personal slave of the Commandant gives a great insight into what life is like for Scholar slaves, especially those who come in contact with the ice-cold and ruthless Commandant.
This story is rife with intrigue, conspiracies and betrayal; overshadowed only by the violence. It is easy to see why Elias would want to escape this life, though it takes time to discover why he feels so differently about the situation than all of his classmates.
Blackcliff Academy is the training ground of the Masks, 6 year old children are chosen and whisked off to the Academy and if they manage to survive through all that will be expected of them they will graduate and become Masks. It is no surprise to discover, after you find out what their schooling entails, that only about half of them will survive to graduate.
What fantasy would be complete without supernatural beings foretelling the future, and in this case it’s the Augurs. They foretell the future and can read minds. They are also really good at telling the major players what they need to hear to align the characters in the best way to get the outcome they want. Their role is definitely not to watch and not interfere, they are more than willing to step in where they see the need.
Tahir’s characters are vivid and breathtaking, they push their limits and go beyond what they thought themselves capable of to finally follow their own paths.
Laia runs in the first chapter and doesn’t seem like she will ever forgive herself. She spends every second trying to make up for that decision. She had to run, we can see it and I think over time she will come to see it too. She doesn’t recognise her strength and her courage and the unwavering code that she grows into.
Elias is an interesting character, both for his parentage and his feelings for the Empire. He is faced with some horrific choices and you are never quite sure how things are going to turn out. He is complex and troubled, willing to fight for what he believes in but refuses to become a killing machine for the Empire. He is one who will always be haunted by his choices.
Fantasy tales are generally stories of epic proportions, which seems reasonable when you think of all the work that goes into world building. Tahir’s world building is sound though I would have liked a bit more fleshing out of the other two peoples, perhaps that will come later on. An Ember In The Ashes begins on the cusp of a revolution and Tahir has written it well.
Tahir has written a compelling debut that had me hooked. I look forward to reading the sequel and would not be surprised to find that this becomes at least a trilogy.
20 of our lucky readers are going to be reading An Ember In The Ashes as well so please be aware there may be spoilers in the comments below. Personally, I can not wait to hear what they think.