“An Ember in the Ashes Series” by Sabaa Tahir
Razorbill, “An Ember in the Ashes,” 446 pages and “A Torch Against the Night,” 452 pages, $19.95, 2016, Goodreads
Sabaa Tahir draws from so many different aspects of history to create this vibrant and beautiful world with courageous and humanistic characters, which left me with the book covers solidly glued to my hands.
It was hard for me not to get impassioned when I entered this world that is forged by a militaristic entity called the Martial Empire who have oppressed the weaker Scholar people for nearly 500 years. The first of two main characters is Laia, a free Scholar girl, who lives with her grandparents and her brother, Darin. However, one night their house is invaded by Martial Masks, the elite group of soldiers within the Empire’s military, and her whole life is changed forever. The actions that take place that night fuels Laia’s bravery leading her to go undercover as a Scholar slave in the Blackcliff Military Academy, a brutal garrison of Masks in training. Once there she meets Elias, Tahir’s second main character, who will be graduating from Blackcliff soon and cannot wait to be free of the hell that’s within. The two must band together if they’re ever going to change the empire and their world.
What is so great about this narrative is that it’s told in interchanging points of view between Laia and Elias. However, I found a third character that also stood out within the tale. Helene Aquilla is Elias’ best friend, and she has just as much to lose as the two main characters. Since Helene’s character sort of took a journey of her own within the first book it only made sense that Tahir gave her, her own point of view to interchange with Laia and Elias in the second book. The three characters subsequently drive the plot with their actions and motivations, which are relatable to the modern reader and a definite extension of the human condition.
It helps that a story so monumental and exquisite has a backdrop and setting to match it. The action is given a background that is Middle Eastern in its feel and the exotic excitement of an unfamiliar landscape is what made my interest pique as my reading went on. The cultural uniqueness of the Scholars clash with the familiar military rule of the Martial Empire (I got strong Roman vibes), which causes these novels to exhibit the duality between soft and hard, unskilled and precisely trained; weak and strong, but these dualities don’t hold for long. The complex characters cause the poles to shift to make for an even more engaging narrative than before.
I highly recommend these books for those who love adventures and have a passion of history. Sabaa Tahir writes beautifully of fear, courage, loyalty, and hope. These books also teach that even the smallest of us can shake a whole empire, which is a valuable lesson in the horrible sea of hormones that are the teenage years.
If you find you like these books then get ready because the untitled third installment will be out in 2018, but until then definitely follow Sabaa Tahir on Twitter at @sabaatahir or on Instagram @sabaatahir.