Set in a terrifyingly brutal Rome-like world, An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom. It’s a story that’s literally burning to be told.
LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.
ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.
When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.
"Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after."
I wasn't sure what drew me to the book in the first place. All I know is that I have high expectations on this book, and it never fails to deliver. I'm thoroughly satisfied. Words can't really explain how much I love the story. But I'll try my best.
Laia is a Scholar who is trying her best to live under the Martial Empire, invisible to the Martials. Except her life is derailed when her brother is brought into the darkest and most brutal prison. She's determined to have her brother saved by allying herself with rebel Scholars. Elias, on the other hand, is considering running from the academy. But he faces his own challenges when he's being subject to the Trials. Both of them are fighting for freedom, and what they have got is a bunch of secrets that can shatter trust and friendship.
I was surprised by how well the supporting characters are developed. Sure, Elias and Laia make strong narratives and have distinctive characteristics. There are a lot of scenes where we can learn about the hidden part of their minds and the obstacles that they struggle with. It's the first sign of an amazing book when the characters can provoke strong emotions. But it's not typical when the side characters have strong influence to the story and vibrant personalities. Helene is one of the best in the book. She's ruthless and brutal but also loyal and self-sacrificing in a certain way. Her friendship with Elias is endearing and it's possible to see into her mind when they interact. I admire the way the author shapes her characters. It's graceful and clever.
The story is not as complex when I thought about it after reading the book. At least, not in the sense that every single person has their own sins that can destroy relationships or lives or even, well, kingdoms and empires. However, I kept finding myself being shocked by the turn of events in the book, the unpredictability of them. This is exceptionally impressive, because I consider myself a tad bit intuitive and can often find out the truth before it is exposed. There are deception in the book, but it's not too rich that it makes everything confusing. The balance of suspense and action is perfect. I love the violent yet oddly beautiful world and plot. Every so often there are new mysteries being added into the story that can potentially develop into something finer. The author is truly a master writer that can write an unusual debut with vivid worlds and characters.
The ending is especially infuriating. It's fascinating and annoying at the same time. Fascinating, because it's simply a beautiful way to end the story. Annoying, because there are so many loose ends untied. I do believe there is a sequel to this story, because there are quite a number of things that are left unanswered in the book. The deepest secret of the unseen ones and the aftermath of the book will possibly make a great sequel. I really hope so, because this is one of the best books I've read this year.