In a world inspired by ancient Rome and defined by brutality, seventeen-year old Laia has grown up with one rule for survival: Never challenge the Empire. But when Laia’s brother Darin is arrested for treason, she leaves behind everything she knows, risking her life to try and save him. She enlists help from the rebels whose extensive underground network may lead to Darin. Their help comes with a price, though. Laia must infiltrate the Empire’s greatest military academy as a spy.
Elias is the Empire’s finest soldier—and its most unwilling one. Since childhood, he has trained to become one of the Masks, deadly fighters who ravage and destroy in the name of the Empire. But Elias is secretly planning a dangerous escape from the very tyranny he has sworn to enforce.
Thrown together by chance and united by their hatred of the Empire, Laia and Elias will soon discover that their fates are intertwined—and that their choices may change the destiny of the entire Empire.
This book. Oh my god this book. This book ruined me with its amazingness.
So initially I was not very familiar with this book, but then I suddenly started seeing it everywhere. I think it was near the top of the YA bestsellers list for a while, and I kept seeing all these articles talking about how great it was, so I figured it would be interesting, and oh my god, now it is definitely up there with my favorite books. It’s really hard to describe in regards to the plot without going on for hours, so, I’m just going to share my thoughts after finishing this emotional rollercoaster of a book.
We have two different POV’s going here, and to be honest there wasn’t really one that I liked more than the other. I would start reading a chapter from one POV, and I’d get really invested, then that chapter would end on a cliff hanger and I’d want to get to the next part of their story, but then I’d get invested in the other POV and want to know what happens to them, and it was just this whole viscous cycle of book addiction. It kind of reminded me of “Hunger Games” in the way that I literally could not stop reading the darn thing until I needed to force myself to stop so I wouldn’t get upset when I needed to be in public.
SPOILERS FOR “AN EMBER IN THE ASHES” BEYOND THIS POINT
So let’s talk about the two main characters. This is one of those books where the main characters go through so much horrible stuff, and you just want to help them or get them out of their situation, but you can’t. Because they’re fictional.
First we have Laia. I literally feel so much for Laia. She’s one of those characters who thinks of herself as so much less capable than she truly is, and then proceeds to do incredibly brave and selfless things throughout the entire book. And then at the same time she is just entirely human. She isn’t out to take down the empire or lead the resistance or anything, she just wants to save her only living family member, and is willing to put herself through so much horrible, brutal stuff to get him back. I think that’s what makes it especially painful when we DON’T GET TO SEE HER FIND DARIN IN THE END but I guess that’s going to be part of the next book, because, thank god, this is not a stand-alone. We do start to see Laia coming into herself towards the end, and I’m really excited to see where her character goes in the next book.
And then we have Elias. Oh god, I did not need to fall in love with another fictional man, but here I am entirely in love with Elias. The thing about this character is that he has spent the majority of his life training to be entirely remorseless and emotionless as a mask, but he is honestly the exact opposite. He cares so much about Helene and his friends and Laia, and you can tell that the last thing he wants to do is hurt anyone. He goes against everything the empire stands for, and all he wants is to get away from this place that’s going to force him to do horrible things. But then he’s named an Aspirant and has to go through the trials, and I swear, these trials were made to just entirely break Elias.
Speaking of which I need to talk about the trials real fast, because they were so messed up. Watching Elias and Helene’s reactions to their worst fears in the first trial was incredibly heart wrenching and then the second trial was straight up insane. And then we got to the third trial. Oh god, the third trial. Now I have read some screwed up stuff, but I literally had to stop reading for a minute during the third trial because it was so horribly cruel. Like I said, Elias is established earlier as seriously not wanting to hurt anyone, and here we have to watch him being forced to kill the friends he grew up with, and literally causing his worst fear from the first trial to happen at the same time. Yeah, that part was NOT OKAY.
And then the last trial gave me another panic attack entirely. At first I honestly thought for a second that the book had pulled some sort of Game of Thrones crap and had actually killed off Laia, and I was so relieved about the whole thing with the female augur faking her death. But then Elias and Laia had to go through even more crap before they escaped Blackcliff but it was all so emotional and fast paced and oh my god I cannot get over the main characters from this book. I read the term “trauma conga line” somewhere on the internet once, and I think that’s a perfect description of what these two characters go through, but because of this you just desperately want to see them win. You just want to see Elias overcome his mother and his role as a mask, and you want to see Laia escape the Commandant and find her brother, and this all makes the book so impossible to stop reading.
So now I’m going to go on about the other characters. First off, I need to talk about Helene. I just have so many feelings about Helene. You can tell she is just completely torn between her relationship and feelings with Elias and her loyalty and position in the Empire. I actually spent the whole book getting extremely attached to her, and then worrying that she was either going to die in the trials or fully accept the empire’s ideologies. Her thing with the augurs was such a good resolution to her story arc and it explained so much. I’m really scared for her working under oath to Marcus though, and I really hope she gets away from him somehow. But at the same time I have this feeling that she’s going to stay as his blood shrike because of what the augurs said about keeping Elias alive, and as a result of that she’s going to be sort of an enemy for Elias and Laia, so we have that intense emotional pain to look forward to.
Then on Laia’s side we have Izzi. I absolutely loved her. She was such a sweetheart, I loved her friendship with Laia, and I’m so glad that Laia got her out of Blackcliff. I’d like to see more of her, but I also really kind of hope this is the end of her storyline because she really deserves a happy ending and I’m worried about what may happen to her if she’s in the next book.
Then also on Laia’s side we have the resistance. I feel like Keenan will be a really interesting character once we get more development on him in the next book. Same with Sana, I really liked what little we saw of her and I hope we get to see more in the sequel.
Mazen, on the other hand made me want to throw the book against a wall. Don’t get me wrong he was a well written character and all but the way he manipulated Laia was so not okay. I was getting some vibes that he couldn’t be trusted throughout the book, but oh my god when he pretty much told Laia he had no intentions of helping her brother and he just sent her to Blackcliff to die I was literally whispering some words that should not be repeated at the book. I really just kind of hope that Keenan finds some way to break off from him and somehow meet up with Elias and Laia or something in the next book. I don’t know how, I just really hope it happens.
And then we have the other antagonists. I could not stand Marcus. He was creepy, he was disgusting, he kept hurting the characters I was attached to, he is a straight up sociopath and this world is messed up enough without him as the emperor. But he’s not the person I hated the most in this book. That honor goes to the Commandant. Oh my god, I want the commandant dead. The things she did to Laia when she was a slave were so cruel and horrible and completely upsetting, and then the way she treated Elias, her own freaking son, was completely messed up. Like I said, these characters go through a total conga line of trauma, and most of it is the god darned commandants fault. She was a great antagonist, I want to know why she is so messed up, but then I want to see her die.
So anyway, now I am going to go fangirl on everyone and declare that I officially ship Elias and Laia. I loved the scene where they were dancing at the festival, and that great scene in Elias’ room, and the fact that there wasn’t really an “instant love” type situation between them like in a lot of books. There wasn’t really much focus on romance in this book, so I can see it developing slowly over time, and that’s something I can really get into. I also get a sense that there’s going to be this weird sort of Keenan-Laia-Elias-Helene love square type thing going, so we’ll see what happens with that.
Finally, I just have to say I am so relieved that this book is not a stand-alone. I think it was marketed as one so I was a little concerned at first until I found out there was going to be a sequel. Because I have so. Many. Bleeping. Questions. Like I need to know what’s up with the augurs, and why there’s only the one female augur, and the whole thing with the Commandant and the Deathbringer, and Helene’s thing with the singing, and the Cook’s backstory, and Laia’s family, and if they find Darin and I am entirely ready for the next book, because I need more on these characters and this messed up world. The whole time I was reading I was getting this almost cinematic feel. Like towards the end when Elias and Laia were escaping and Helene pulled off his mask I was just seeing this amazing scene with drops of blood and silver flying off in slow motion and this epic music playing and I can just see it transferring so well to a movie or miniseries or something if it was adapted well.
So overall “An Ember in the Ashes” was a seriously amazing book, ten out of ten, I won’t shut up about it to everyone I meet, and I’m recommending it to everyone. It’s been a while since I got so obsessively into a book, and I can honestly say that I can’t wait to be emotionally destroyed by the sequel!
Until next time!