I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for awhile now. I’ve read so many great things about it online but I’m always a little wary, too, when it gets too positive reviews online. I don’t want to be disappointed, you know? So I’m happy to say, I think this one lived up to the hype. An Ember in the Ashes. I think what has drawn so many people to it is that sort of unique. It’s a dystopian novel that isn’t really dystopian. It’s sort of historical fiction but not really. It’s based on Ancient Rome. Yes, it does have a little bit of a Hunger Games feel to it with it’s fight to the death competition in the middle of the novel but I’m willing to forgive because I feel it serves the purpose of the novel. The Martials have taken over the empire and enslave people as they go. One of those newly enslaved peoples are the Scholars. Laia and her family have tried to stay out of trouble but when her brother is arrested for treason she agrees to become a slave and spy on the evil Commandant (she’s seriously evil) for the resistance. Elias is the top student and is poised on carrying on his family’s name but he’s looking for a way out. Their paths collide as they discover they might be exactly who each other needs to get what they want and possibly more.
Laia is an interesting character. She doesn’t see herself as brave. In fact, she spends a fair amount of the novel chastising herself for being a coward for not saving her brother and for running away. Despite all her fears and doubts she pushes herself beyond anything in the attempt to save her brother. She’s strong. Elias is also interesting. He has started to question his surroundings and started to realize that he is as much as a slave as Laia is. He may be an elite soldier but he will always have to do what he is told and live how he is told. He has no free will. So he tried to run away but got sucked backed in. It’s an interesting contrast between the two. One is clearly a slave and has no rights and is abused* and the other may not be called a slave but doesn’t have freedom as you would expect. Add in some mystic priest, a sadistic school master and a little romance and you will be hooked. I can’t wait to read what happens next. Thank goodness there is going to be a sequel.
*Ok, time for a rant. I’m getting tired of reading books that have the heroine live in constant fear of being raped. I have read at least five books in which this was a thing. Yes, for some of the books, it made some sense if you take in to account of setting and time period but it’s getting a little too much. It reminds me of a post by Maggie Stievfater that is really relevant. In the middle of Ember in the Ashes, every time Laia left the house she worked for, she had to be on guard or she would be raped by one of the students in the school. I get it! It’s a threat that women in this time and place of the book, especially slaves (though the other female character also has to guard against her male students, too) have to worry about but do you have to remind us every other chapter? So authors, can we try to think of other ways to bring tension and raise the stakes for female characters besides them being worried about being sexually assaulted? Rant over.