An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
“The field of battle is my temple. The swordpoint is my priest. The dance of death is my prayer. The killing blow is my release.”
5 years ago, I read this book for the very first time and my mind was utterly blown away by how extraordinary it was. 5 years later, I picked it up to re-read - as we're finally about to get the series' conclusion - and again my mind was blown away. It’s the kind of book that never leaves your thoughts as long as your live. The kind that imprints a beautiful mark on your soul. A one-time read isn’t enough for this story and doesn’t even give it justice.
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.
Flawless. Everything is woven together perfectly. The captivating world of Scholars and Martials, the Empire; the gape of life conditions and privileges, the suffering, pain, violence and injustice inflicted upon scholars. Blackcliff is supposed to be the school to raise and train Martials to be warriors, guardians and defenders of the empire; Masks. Yet upon a closer look on the inside, it does nothing but bring up murderers, brutal and soulless men. Elias Veturius, our male protagonist, reflects the perfect image of suppression and imprisonment disguised in freedom. Stolen childhood, dreadfully violent mother – I’ll talk about that b**** later on – and forced to become a man he loathes.
“You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”
His friendship with Helene Aquilla is one those friendships you really enjoy throughout the whole book; a portrait of love and friendship struggling against loyalty to their superiors. Helene 's character is a statement to strength. The desire every girl and woman has to prove herself despite all those underestimate her just because she’s a woman.
The world of #AnEmberintheAshes is a witness to Sabaa Tahir’s outstanding talent. She masterly perfected the use of word into giving the world an image, a culture, a feel to it and a strong voice. She gave life to the book; I could feel every word vibrating through it. I appreciated how authentically she used arabic names for Scholars and Tribesmen; gave them a whole new level of legitimacy, culture and civilization that doesn’t need to be even explained.
Sabaa Tahir’s skill with character is nothing short of amazing; as I previously noted with Elias and Helene. Laia, the female protagonist, even though she saw herself to be a coward and weak, I saw a strong, unyielding woman with an iron will. I admired her courage and loyalty to do whatever it takes to get her brother out from under the Martials claws and torture. There was definitely some similarities between her and Elias, yet it was more like the resemblances that complete one-another. I think Elias’ compassion towards her is partially what kept both of them alive and standing on their feet with all what they had to endure. For the first half of the book, they merely cross-path every once in a while; yet that reflects a depth to their forming connection better than a thousand spoken words. They actually talk to each other around the second half of the book, and it begins. Laia 's character annoyed me a little bit at first, and I think that's why I enjoyed reading about her.
It made her all the more real to me.
“You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes.”
The Resistance is a metaphor for a suppressed society struggling to survive, slashing at anything and everything they can get their hands on. Mazen, Kennan, Sana, Tariq…each was struggling against the other. No true leader there, no plan, no organization whatsoever and sadly a true reflection of our world's current politics situation. And to be totally honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of Kennan, something is off about him.
Now, let's face the inevitable and talk about the commandant! That woman actually scared me, terrified me is more like it. No joke, I shivered, shook with anticipated terror whenever she showed up. How can a woman be capable of such cruelty is beyond me. I believe that even though I hate her with a passion, her character is so damn well written; that's why you hate a character on paper with real-like passion. Her relationship with her son broke my heart into pieces, witnessing how she branded Laia was a proof of how long-gone she is into darkness and to be capable of mutilating young children is nothing but a statement to how darkness has overtaken her and how power can rotten one's heart and poison their soul.
And while we're on the subject of awful persons, let's talk about Marcus and be done with it. Despite the fact that I loathed the guy, I want to know him a little better. Something felt off and missing; there always has to be a back story to every bully, and I need to know why he is the way he is. The things he did, does and will do; lord save us!
This series is a wonderful and captivating experience, I plan to re-read book 2 & 3 before we finally get our hands on the fourth and final book.