Dueling and Complementary Themes

emberAn Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes #1

By Sabaa Tahir

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.

Via Goodreads


I always find prophecies to be tricky literary devices. Are they meant to come true no matter what or can the outcome be changed? Depending on the world of a story, one or the other must be chosen. In An Ember in the Ashes, prophecies come true but in the most unlikely ways.

Elias and Laia meet by accident after she has become a spy in the Commandant’s household and immediately are drawn to each other. They each struggle with the cards they have been dealt and are trying to be the best people they can be under terrible circumstances. Laia is undercover as a slave to get information to the Resistance in order to have them rescue her brother, her only surviving family, from prison and certain death. Elias is ready to desert from the military he has been raised to fight in when the Trials occur, an event that will result in the new emperor, and he is chosen as one of four contestants by the Aurors (those with all the prophecies).

Extreme situations, up to and including torture, keep them both learning about themselves and force them to strive further. Elias’s prophecy comes true in an extraordinary way that links him to Laia as they escape together.

It’s interesting that Laia must learn to trust people as Elias learns to be his own man, which sets him apart from the world he grew up in and his close friends. Both lessons are valuable in different situations so I appreciated having their arcs be separate but complimentary.

The ending is an obvious set up for another installment in the series, but resolution occurs for some large issues – Laia can move forward in a new way to save her brother and Elias makes peace with his best friend who doesn’t understand his choices.


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