It’s shocking when a book absolutely blows us away. It’s even more shocking when that book comes from a debut author. But Sabaa Tahir is breaking all our rules with her heart-pounding fantasy debut, AN EMBER IN THE ASHES!
The Martials have staked their claim on a large, diverse empire by enslaving the peaceful Scholars and tribes of the land. Laia’s lower-class Scholar family has mainly lived a quiet existence since her parents’ deaths– until her brother Darin is accused of treason and her grandparents are killed. Barely escaping with her life and desperate to save Darin from execution, Laia seeks the help of the Scholar rebels living within the catacombs. They offer her a dangerous deal: Laia must become a spy for their cause and work as a slave for The Commandant, the ruthless leader of the Martial academy.
The Commandant is also the mother of Elias, a young Mask raised and trained to be a threatening, deadly super soldier since childhood. Unlike most of his compatriots, Elias can see the flaws in the Martial system and feels deeply ashamed of his violent heritage. But just when he thinks he can make a clean getaway, Elias is one of four young Masks chosen by the society’s holy men as a potential new emperor. He must compete for a chance to save the empire from the vicious rule that his own mother has inflicted upon them, but winning could mean destroying his best friend along the way.
Laia and Elias’ very different worlds intersect with charm and complexity, delivering a nail-biting fantasy that will make you feel every emotion on the spectrum. In a treacherous world where they’re both simply trying to stay alive, the relationship between Laia and Elias develops slowly and carefully, but each interaction is charged. Through each other they discover truth and magic and get a much-needed look at the world beyond their origins. Thankfully, there’s no cheesy insta-love here detracting from the rest of the plot either.
The action in AN EMBER IN THE ASHES comes at you hard and fast. You’ll be both amazed and horrified by the trials and tribulations these characters face, ranging from human brutishness to supernatural ghouls. The story has an eerie, mythic power to it, but it also supplies readers with plenty of sweet, endearing interactions that will help restore your faith in humanity.
And no, this book is nothing like Marie Lu’s LEGEND series as some have speculated, other than the fact that they both have engrossing, richly designed worlds and two characters from different class structures working toward a better world. And they’re both really, really well-written!
Secondary characters in AN EMBER IN THE ASHES are sharp and memorable. The Commandant is a terrifying, fierce villain that makes most genocidal antagonists look like whiny children pretending to be baddies. She’s a psychopath, and an inexplicably intriguing one at that! But we were also sucked in by Helene, the only female Mask of her generation, mysterious swordsman Spiro Teluman, and the creepy prophesying Augurs, among others. However, one of our (very few) complaints is the alternate love interests Tahir seems to introduce for both Laia and Elias, which didn’t feel practical or necessary.
There’s only one glitch in the undeniable intrigue of this series so far:
Despite major buzz and the film rights getting snatched up long ago, Penguin Teen has yet to sign Sabaa Tahir on for a series deal. We don’t know much about negotiating publishing deals, but we do know that Penguin would have to be insane to pass up on this series! So if this sounds like your cup of tea, buy the book to show your support! We’re confident that a full series will be on the way.
AN EMBER IN THE ASHES hits bookshelves on April 28, 2015!