A fantasy world based off of Roman Society. Where has this book been all my life? SIGN ME UP!
An Ember in the Ashes did not disappoint.
In Ember we follow two characters, Laia a slave and Elias a soldier. As the novel opens Laia’s family is attacked by a Mask, an elite soldier. Her grandparents are killed and her brother is taken. Laia manages to escape and makes a deal with the rebellion. She will spy for them in the Mask’s School and Compound if they rescue her brother from the clutches of the Empire.
Meanwhile, Elias is the most promising student at the Mask’s school. Yet, on the eve of his graduation he plans to abandon the Empire and the system that he has come to hate. His plans are interrupted when he and his best friend Helen are named as candidates for the a series of trials to gain the Empire’s throne.
I loved the dynamic between Elias and Helen. She’s the only girl in the school (only one is ever there at a time) and it reflects in her personality. She is gifted, ruthless and a rule follower. Over the course of the novel Elias tries to figure out if his feelings for Helen go beyond that of friendship. It was nice that their not-relationship-relationship never overshadows the main plot, instead only influences it. it was also nice that Helen is a well rounded character with her own wants and needs, she’s not willing to play second fiddle to Elias. She’d headstrong and cares about those close to her. I’m really excited to see where her character goes.
Laia is also an interesting character. When we first meet her she’s a self proclaimed coward. She blames herself for running away when she should have at least attempted to save her brother. Spying for the Rebellion is a challenge but proves to her that she isn’t as weak as she originally thought she was. Over the course of the book Laia learns that not everyone is they seem, including those who claim they want to help her.
My favourite part of the book was the use of mythology. There are two sets of customs at play in this story. The Scholars are the conquered people and they’re pretty cut and dry when it comes to belief systems. They’re skeptics and don’t believe in fairy stories. The Empire on the other hand has a long history of mythological beliefs. During the last few generations, these beliefs have begun to shift due to their exposure to those of the Scholars. When the reader enters this story, it doesn’t feel like a fantasy novel. There is no magic, there are no monsters running around, there are just characters.
That is until Tahir blind sides you with magic.
BAM! FEY! HOW DOES IT FEEL?
To make it EVEN BETTER, these are not your standard European/Anglo Saxon/Tolkien-esque faeries. Welcome to the world of djinn, efrits and wraiths. This is a whole new ballgame for me AND I LOVED IT DESPERATELY. I can’t wait to learn more about these creatures.
The one thing that bugged me about the book was how it could have easily have just been an adult fantasy novel instead of YA. If the characters were aged up a few years and a few dynamics were tweaked (I would have loved it if Elias’s Mother was actually his sister and she was still the head of the school Someone fanfic it for me… Please).
Overall this was a solid debut novel and a solid start to a series. I can’t wait to see how Tahir develops her characters and builds on her world. It would be neat to see this society when it isn’t centred around the Mask’s academy.
And that ending…..