by Sabaa Tahir
Series: An Ember in the Ashes #1
Narrator: Fiona Hardingham, Steve West
Length: 15 hrs and 22 mins
Genres: Dystopian, Fantasy
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
Narration: 4 cups
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 love a good dystopian, it is what drew me to the young adult genre and when I saw reviews for An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir I was excited about the promise of a roman-world with violence, oppression, and dual narratives. When an opportunity to review the audio presented itself, I dove headfirst. I am so glad that I did. An Ember in the Ashes was beautifully written and executed.
The first in An Ember in the Ashes series, Tahir brings us a roman like a world filled with gladiator-type military schools, slaves and an oppressed society ruled by violence and fear. The author did an excellent job of bringing the world to life from the impressive academy to the slums.
Dual perspectives gave us both sides of the story. Elias is a solider at the academy who dreams of freedom and an escape from the violence that rules his life. He unwittingly finds himself competing to be the next Martial emperor. Laia is a Scholar, living under the control of the emperor, but when her brother is arrested and her grandparents murdered, she soon finds herself working undercover in hopes of freeing her brother. The chapters alternate between the two and I immediately became wrapped up in their stories. Laia is an unlikely hero, in fact, if given a choice she would be in hiding, but it is her love for her brother that drives her and her transformation alone was worth the ride.
Tahir delivers a dark tale that touches on the darker side of war, and the sacrifices on both sides. The emperor faction is dark and bloodthirsty, with political maneuvering and quests for power. Scholars and slaves are treated like commodities in this quest. In the middle of it all, we have a rebel group. The Revolutionist and we learn that Laia has ties to them; she uses that connection to aid her brother.
What strengthened this novel and gave it its heart were the protagonists. Both are struggling and see tremendous growth and enlightenment throughout the story. The tale is surprisingly romance free although seeds have been planted. I loved these little teasers they gave a little hope to all the darkness. I thought a triangle was in the making, but with one line, Tahir squelched that and I was delighted. An Ember in the Ashes is dark and falls on the higher end of young adult genre making it a great crossover novel.
Fiona Hardingham and Steve West did a splendid job with the narration allowing us to feel Laia’s and Elias’s internal struggles, fear and growth. The choice to use two narrators was a good one and I hope these two continue the series.
If you have given up on the dystopian genre or feel burned out, trust me and take a chance on An Ember in the Ashes as it breathed life into this genre.