2019 May 31
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.
Pakistani-American author Sabaa Tahir became an instant success as her debut novel “An Ember in the Ashes” became a bestseller seemingly overnight. This is the first novel in a quartet set against a fantasy backdrop inspired by the Roman Empire. The plot follows the intertwined fates of Laia, a Scholar (member of the oppressed class) tasked with the dangerous job of spying for the Resistance and Elias, a reluctant soldier and illegitimate son of a tyrant.
The Martial Empire is oppressive, dark and brutal in its machinations and the author does a good job in portraying its bleakness. As the novel progresses amidst constant political scheming and rebellion, so does the development between the two main characters, Laia and Elias. The dual narrative explores and gives life to the supporting characters, all of which paints a rich world of the Martial Empire.
The strong themes of political resistance, a play between freedom and loyalty as well as supernatural tendencies make this novel a gripping read but beware of the slow start to the novel. The cliff-hanger at the end will have you yearning to learn more about the fate of these characters and how they bring change about the empire. This is a must-read for fans of YA fantasy fiction!