The Martial Empire is an ancient, Rome-like civilization where the military rules with unwavering violence. Two heroic characters occupy the heart of this tale: Laia, a member of the oppressed Scholar class, and Elias, an elite soldier on the brim of desertion.
Laia’s parents died fighting for the Resistance, a now-fractured rebel group. After her grandparents are murdered and her brother is arrested, Laia seeks help from the Resistance, but their help comes with a price. If they are to save her brother from execution, Laia must pose as a slave to spy on the Commandant, the military academy’s ruthless leader—but doing so puts Laia at risk for rape, disfigurement and death.
Elias is the Commandant’s son and one of the academy’s best soldiers. Hours after graduation, Elias plans to escape the military—but he and his best friend are unwillingly entered into a competition to choose the Empire’s next ruler. When Elias meets Laia, he’s immediately attracted to the slave girl and puts his own life at risk to protect her. Elias dreams of freedom, and Laia wants to save the only family she has left, but together they will change the fate of an empire.
Like Suzanne Collins with the Hunger Games series, debut author Sabaa Tahir doesn’t write around the violence, which may be too extreme for some readers. The Commandant’s cruelty has no limits, and children are often the targets. Laia and Elias’ risky close calls will give readers heart palpitations. Be warned: An Ember in the Ashes ends on a cliffhanger, but with all the buzz surrounding this page-turning novel, including publication in more than 20 countries and snapped-up movie rights, a sequel is most likely in the works.
Kimberly Giarratano is the author of Grunge Gods and Graveyards, a young adult paranormal mystery.