Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.
I was so nervous about this book. It seemed to me that lately the extremely hyped books were very anticlimactic. Not that they are bad, just that I can think of books that come out that same month that were better and deserve the hype more. Regardless, An Ember in the Ashes deserves the hype. It is clearly obvious why this book was already optioned for a movie. I just have to wonder how they are going to translate so much book awesomeness into the usual two hour movie time frame.
The world-building was fantastic. The world is amazingly believable and totally awful. Even though it's setting is ancient Rome, I don't see some of the things that happened as a far exaggeration - it's definitely scary. I feel like some of the things may hit too close to home or may be sensitive for some people. There is a lot of violence and talk of sexual assault, but all great books come with controversy.
So, one thing I'm seeing around the Internet is how many people are Team Helene and how little people are Team Laia. I had the complete opposite reaction. For half the book, I thought Helene was a pretentious snob. I definitely think she grew as a character eventually, but honestly not enough that I'd be #TeamHelene. Given, there were times I understood her and could empathize with her. There was never a time I liked her more than Laia. I do understand that she was super badass, though. The argument I saw people give was "Laia just kind of moped around". My reaction to that is - did we read the same book? I thought Laia tried to fight every chance she got! At first I thought I was going to favor Elias's point of view over Laia's, but I found myself loving both of them equally. Laia had her entire life turned upside down and she never managed to be sulky or annoying. Anyway, I definitely liked Laia enjoyed Laia much more than I originally thought I was going to.
"There are two kinds of guilt, girl: the kind that drowns you until you're useless,
and the kind that fires your soul to purpose "
"You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy.
You cannot change it. You cannot stop it."