Published: April 28th, 2015 by Razorbill
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 don't always love hyped books. No one does. But I don't think I have ever disliked one this much that has as much hype as this one. It didn't make me horribly angry in the way that Snow Like Ashes did. I think, for most of An Ember in the Ashes, I was just . . . apathetic. Bored. Didn't cared. Take your pick.
I honestly just didn't see anything unique and exciting here. When Elias was chosen to participate in the trials, I snorted. It was just so typical. And the brutality everyone talked about? I never really felt it. I never really feared for any of the characters. It always seemed to happen to Laia in a blur, and there was so much telling instead of showing concerning this that I hardly realized it was happening at all. The brutality - and the constant mentions and suggestions of rape - never added ANYTHING to the book for me. They just felt like gross plot devices that weren't done well.
And even beyond the trials plot, I was SO BORED. And I have a lot of issues with the Augurs - I just don't like books where everything is based off fate. Where everything is conveniently put in place so that a character doesn't die because it's "not their time," where everything is constructed for Elias to win because ooooh, it's meant to be. Yeah. No thanks. Everything is always too neat and tidy and boring when fate is involved.
So, we have a stagnant plot. Then, we have two separate narrations . . . that sound the same. They both felt like very stilted narrations to me. Many thoughts that Elias had about Helene felt very forced and unnatural to me. And here's the thing. I started skimming his chapters. Then, about 2/3 of the way through, I started basically skipping them altogether. You know how sometimes, in real life, a person you don't even know will just give you a bad vibe? That was Elias for me. I was just uncomfortable reading his chapters, and I can't even say why.
I was much more interested in Laia's chapters, though I wasn't all that interested in Laia herself. I wanted to see what would happen with her brother, especially since it was so obvious that Mazen was totally bullshitting. And I'll be honest, I was interested in seeing where it would go with Keenan. It definitely all moved way too fast, since their interactions all consisted of quick cloak-and-dagger stuff, but if it had been more slow burn, I could have gotten behind it. I think. Maybe.
And okay, I know it's been talked about before, but this whole love square? WHAT EVEN WAS THAT? I never really felt it between Helene and Elias. And Laia and Elias? Are you kidding me? I felt NOTHING between them. Nothing that made any sense, anyway. And I mean, I knew it was going to happen, obviously. But it was not even remotely believable. All the romance in this book felt like such a mess.
As for world-building, I've heard so much raving about it. But I was reading and going "where is this exquisite world-building? WHERE?" Because I didn't see it. Any of it. Which is entirely how I felt about this whole book - I didn't see anything that everyone else must see.
Overall: Listen, I had to skim and skip to actually sort of finish this book. I was bored to tears and honestly can't think of a single thing I liked, besides the possibilities of Keenan and Laia and Laia's parentage. I don't really know why I can't love this one like everyone else. I genuinely feel like I have to crawl under a rock now. 1.5 stars.