I am not a fan of fantasy fiction for young adults. I honestly try and avoid that genre and with good reason. I have never been enticed and intrigued by it as I read and read some more. I finally decided to not pursue that genre, till “An Ember in the Ashes” piqued my interest and something told me that I must read it and boy oh boy did I love it.
“An Ember in the Ashes” is a stunning debut. It has everything that you would expect from a first-timer or just may not. Sabaa Tahir’s writing is sharp, precise and there are more than enough cliff-hanging moments to keep the reader hooked.
What is the book all about?
It is about two individuals who want to chart their own courses of life and not be stuck with the ones panned out for them. The book is set in a totalitarian society inspired by ancient Rome, where the Empire’s word is the last word. It is the only word. When there is totalitarianism there is also a revolution. This book is a fantastic addition to the world of YA fantasy fiction. It is the kind of book which can be enjoyed by adults as well without it being felt that they are reading a book written for teenagers.
There are war-like rulers and then there are the Scholars, who are forced into slavery and poverty. Their libraries are destroyed. They aren’t allowed to read. Nothing is what it was. The Martials took over the Scholars Empire five hundred years ago and things have not changed since. There is a warrior school known as Blackcliff which is run by the current Empire. They train the Martial children to become Masks, elite assassins. I know it sounds kind of complex till now but it isn’t.
There are of course two teenagers at the heart of this story. One from the Scholar’s side and one from the Martial’s side. Laia, a young Scholar lives in the city. One night she witnesses her brother Darin being arrested by the Mask and decides to set him free. However, for this she needs the help of the Resistance, the rebellion formed against the Empire. Laia must serve as a spy and endure if she has to set her brother free.
On the other hand there is Elias, who at the opening of the book is about to graduate to becoming a Mask. He doesn’t want to be a Mask. All he wants to do is run away and almost does the night before the graduation, till things take a different turn and he stays.
This is where the story begins. Laia enters the Empire and her interactions with Elias begin. It may seem to be a predictable tale but it is so not. You must read it to believe what is different and how. It is also not like The Hunger Games or any other dystopian YA novel.
I would most certainly recommend this book to one and all. The supporting characters are so carefully etched and play a major role in the book. Elias and Laia make you want to turn the pages as fast as possible. The writing is playful and extremely careful, making you believe in this world like none other. The detailing is perfect. I bet you will not stop while reading this one. Go for it!