An Ember in the Ashes
by Sabaa Tahir
Penguin Random House, 2015. 446 pgs. Young Adult
Laia and what remains of her family are Scholars, subjects of the conquering Martial Empire, who stay out of trouble by trying to go about their business unnoticed. But when Laia's brother Darin is arrested on charges of treason, and her grandparents killed, she becomes a slave to the extraordinarily cruel commandant of the Blackcliff Military Academy, hoping to discover secrets she can trade to the Resistance in the hope that they will rescue Darin. In alternating chapters, Laia and Elias, the commandant's son who hates his life as a Mask in training, tell their stories of their desires and efforts to be free of the Martial Empire and to save the people they love. An Ember in the Ashes is a thrilling, violent story of a seemingly hopeless fight for freedom and justice. The Augurs pressure Elias into a path he does not wish to take, arguing that it is only by achieving his destiny that he will truly be free, while Laia overcomes her terrible fears, only to be betrayed by those she has relied on. A bit of romance lightens the terror, but even that is not straightforward: Elias thinks of Helene as his best friend, but she wants something more; Laia and Elias are attracted to each other, but Keenan, Laia's Resistance "handler," is also in the mix. The story is slightly marred by the fact that Elias's voice is more compelling than Laia's. Also, Helene emerges as the most nuanced and unpredictable of Tahir's characters. Still, the story is thrilling and though-provoking, and the reader will greatly hope for at least one sequel, if not for a whole string of them.