Image and blurb from Amazon:
“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.”
I really enjoyed this book! It had the right mix of an exciting plot with well developed characters.
Laia has grown up hating the Masks. She watches as they come arrest her brother Darin and murder her grandparents. In order to get her brother back, she joins the resistance as a spy and infiltrates Blackcliff (the school that trains Masks). As a slave in Blackcliff, Laia is aware of the cruel treatment she will receive and yet she does not hesitate in her decision if it means saving her brother. I loved this about Laia- her unwavering loyalty to her brother even if she is aware sneaking into Blackcliff could kill her.
Elias is a Mask in training at Blackcliff. He has doubts about becoming a Mask and does not agree with their cruel ways. Early on, he has thoughts about deserting even though it would mean a death sentence if caught. This is further complicated by his best friend Helene. Helene was such an interesting character! Despite Elias having his doubts against Blackcliff, Helene is completely indoctrinated and loves the idea of becoming a Mask. Although you can hardly blame her for following the ideas and values she has been taught her entire life. Helene and Elias’s relationship is complicated- they are very close, but their fundamentally different beliefs make things difficult.
I really enjoyed the alternating viewpoints between Elias and Laia, it helps the reader sympathize with both sides of the conflict. I also liked the way Tahir handled Elias and Laia’s growing relationship. It was very realistic considering they were on different sides.
I didn’t enjoy Keenan as a character, I felt like he was kind of a forced love interest for Laia and wasn’t necessary to the plot of the story. If you took out all of his scenes, the story would have flowed fine without him.
And finally, that ENDING! I was happy to see that a sequel will be released very soon (August 30th!) and I can’t wait to read it! 🙂 Definitely recommend An Ember in the Ashes- it was a great read.