09 June 2015

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

There’s been a lot of praise going around for AN EMBER IN THE ASHES. It’s well deserved. It’s a blazing debut and an excellent addition to the body of epic fantasy.

If that sounds like gushing, or like jumping on the bandwagon, well, guilty as charged. I will gladly be on that bandwagon. AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is probably the best high fantasy I’ve read since I finished THE WHEEL OF TIME series back in 2013. It thrummed with immediacy and danger. It was exciting.

Laia is a Scholar: born into the lowest caste of society, barely above slavery. Her parents are already dead, and when her brother is accused of treason, it puts what little family she has left in danger. She is determined to rescue her brother, no matter what, and so she agrees to go undercover as a slave at the Blackcliff Military Academy—possibly the most dangerous place in the world for her.

Elias is a Martial: the upper crust of society, the race that conquered the Scholar Empire hundreds of years ago. He’s a student at Blackcliff, training to become a Mask, the feared assassins of the Martial Empire. But Elias wants to desert.

Events beyond their control bring Elias and Laia together. There’s quite a bit of prophecy in AN EMBER IN THE ASHES: a group of immortal beings known as Augurs who oversee the Martial Empire have declared that the current emperor’s line will fail. How much they see and how much they control is a constant question throughout the book; how much we control our own destinies, how much we control who we want to be, is at the very heart of Elias and Laia’s struggles.

Elias and Laia both have to make sacrifices. Choosing what they are willing to sacrifice—and, more importantly, what they are willing to sacrifice for—is what truly set AN EMBER IN THE ASHES apart. Elias and Laia grapple with moral questions that are terrifyingly complicated and yet, at the same time, perilously simple. To kill or not to kill. To betray or not to betray. These are the questions I find most compelling. 

The ending was the most thrilling fifty pages I’ve read since GOLDEN SON: tense, taut, frightening. Laia and Elias reach a conclusion, but not an ending.

Thankfully a sequel has already been announced. I will be waiting for it.

My prediction is after the break...


Did anyone else think that the Augurs were really the jinn?