Author: Sabaa Tahir
Published: Published February 9th 2016 by Razorbill (first published April 28th 2015)
Number of pages: Paperback, 446 pages
My rating: (4.5 stars)
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.
From the Hardcover edition.
Sabaa Tahir manages to captivate with words in this brilliantly written novel. This book is so talked about and my expectations were high but it really deserves all the praise it gets. The book is so unique unlike any other book and almost everything about it is well done. Almost.
The book is narrated by two different but amazing souls. The narration in my opinion is one of the best parts. The voices are two separate voices and they don’t merge or sound alike. Sometimes when authors do the two person narration it doesn’t work well and the two people become one voice but Tahir handled it well.
We are introduced to Laia first. Laia who is smart, beautiful (or so I’m told) but weak and unsure. Laia who is real. We grow to really love Laia who puts her family before herself and who shows great strength and courage and wits. Elias also carries the story really well. Elias is strong, smart and full of regret for all his actions. Elias is a killer who cares and that is what makes him someone we understand and can come to love eventually. In the words of the augurs he is an ember in the ashes.
This life is not always what we think it will be,” Cain says. “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.
Laia is also a scholar and Elias is also a mask. Laia is forced to act as a scholar slave at Blackliff the school for masks and spy for the resistance a super secret rebel group fighting for the freedom of the oppressed scholars. Laia is only driven to the resistance because she desperately needs their help in saving her brother who was wrongfully taken by masks to prison. The plot also takes many different paths and that is just a small part of it. There are so many things at play and it is much more complicated. That is another great thing, both Laia and Elias have their own story to tell.
As I mentioned I like Laia. I also mentioned Laia is weak and I think that is why she couldn’t properly carry the story till the end when she had me gripping my seat. Before that though, Laia was too weak and scared to do this, or that and it made the start of the book really slow. I don’t mind how she was portrayed and she definitely becomes a stronger more willing person but it affected the pacing of the book, at least at the start.
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
Sabaa Tahir does a great job with the world building. We soon learn a lot about this strange, unique world modelled after roman times. We learn more through stories, or words from the augurs even just reading we get more information. The world really intrigued me and I’m glad I was satisfied. I do wish we got to explore more of the world outside of Blackliff (the academy for masks) maybe the next book?
There were really interesting aspects that I want to know more about. Such as the spirits like efrits or Jinns who freely roamed. There was also interesting language usage. Even the idea of masks wearing actual masks that become part of them is something to ponder.
Masks are meant to hate scholars and vice versa. It was partly Laia’s hate for masks that drove her to the resistance. Laia and Elias do meet as most can guess and I was really anticipating their meeting. We can definitely see the spark. Elias clearly liked her and she clearly liked him, a case of forbidden love.
There was also a very confusing, very awkward love square between most of the characters. Emotions were all over the place although it was realistic, they are young adults they obviously have feelings. I wanted relationships to be defined, the topic was skirted around and when feelings were admitted I was still never sure of anything. Overall the love square was really done well due to the character development, I understood them and in turn I understood their feelings.
Sabaa Tahir never shies away from the brutal or nasty scenes or emotions. She fully describes it all which really makes you feel something. This was just one of those heart racing books that fully emerges you. I found the book really gripping and enjoyable.