It is only right that I come back with a juicy breakdown of one of YA’s low-key known fantasies. People seem to know or have heard of Ember in the Ashes but not many pick it up! I’m here to tell you (and maybe warn you) that once you start with the first book you’ll find yourself in a Stranger Things binge like state.
For commentators if you’re going to post something that might be spoilery, kindly write before hand some sort of warning so other readers don’t get spoiled!
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I also love that not a single character’s name is chosen at random, each name holds a deeper meaning to the character and is a reflection to their ethnicity. In my culture, names hold a special meaning as well and they are not chosen so carelessly. So…keep that in mind..
I think it’s worth mentioning that the books can be quite violent and has acute depictions of gore, so if you’re not comfortable with that I’d suggest reconsidering reading this.
Book 1 | An Ember in the Ashes
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.
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.
Book one leaves you gasping so that the others can leave you breathless. What a captivating start into a powerful fantasy. To me this book just had it all, and contrary to the info dumping fantasy authors tend to do, Sabaa leaves you in the dark and thus you’re forced to guess and scheme along with the main characters as they navigate a truly terrifying reality.
My favorite here is Laia, she is not a Katniss Everdeen and honestly I felt more connected to her that way. This was a quiet girl who wanted no trouble but found herself in the darkest circumstances one can imagine being in.
Elias is a fleshed out, brilliant character whom we see start to develop beautifully. That development snowballs when he meets Laia and falls for her.
Book 2 | A Torch Against the Night
Laia is determined to break into Kauf—the Empire’s most secure and dangerous prison—to save her brother, who is the key to the Scholars’ survival. And Elias is determined to help Laia succeed, even if it means giving up his last chance at freedom.
Bound to the bloodthirsty Emperor Marcus’s will, Helene faces a torturous mission of her own—one that might destroy her: find the traitor Elias Veturius and the Scholar slave who helped him escape…and kill them both
Compared to the first one this had less romance (not that I’m complaining) and the stakes go higher. We’re introduced to the greater world of The Empire. This book felt more of like a filler and I did think at times parts of it were longer while the “major mission” was resolved quite quick?
The characters’ development are slightly stinted here with the arrival of their “problems/obstacles”. To me Helene is quickly becoming my favorite character and her story arc took presedence to Laia’s and Elias’s.
Despite this, book 2 keeps the momentum going and I’m left NEEDING the rest of the series.
Book 3 | A Reaper at the Gates
Helene Aquilla, the Blood Shrike, is desperate to protect her sister’s life and the lives of everyone in the Empire. Yet danger lurks on all sides. Emperor Marcus, haunted by his past, grows increasingly unstable and violent, while Keris Veturia, the ruthless Commandant, capitalizes on the Emperor’s volatility to grow her own power—regardless of the carnage she leaves in her path.
Far to the east, Laia of Serra knows that the fate of the world lies not in the machinations of the Martial court, but in stopping the Nightbringer.
And in the land between the living and the dead, Elias Veturius has given up his freedom to serve as Soul Catcher – that means abandoning the woman he loves.
Between this and the last book, I’d consider them my favorite out of all of the quartet. So many characters are introduced here but you’re never lost, and rather than it turn out into an abysmal melting pot of plot and character, the additions are there to enrich the already well crafted book.
I love the approach Sabaa had here with our main villain. About him I’d say “The cruelest anger comes from the deepest pain”. That pain switches from love to hate to grief, he might be one of the most humane villains I’d ever read about.
Laia has outbursts of your typical impulsive heroine but I try and forgive her, Elias can be a “muscle over brains” jock but I forgive him as well. Helene though, Helene’s sin is love if you can believe it.
I still think Helene has the strongest storyline and character arc.
Book 4 | A Sky Beyond the Storm
Picking up just a few months after A Reaper at the Gates left off… For The Nightbringer, vengeance on his human foes is just the beginning.
At his side, Commandant Keris Veturia declares herself Empress, and calls for the heads of The Blood Shrike and her remaining family.
Laia of Serra, now allied with the Blood Shrike, awakens an ancient power that could lead her to victory –or to an unimaginable doom. And deep in the Waiting Place, the Soul Catcher must take on a mission that could save–or destroy–all that he knows.
I’m breathless by the end of it and in an emotional upheaval that was good? The best fantasies leave you feeling all kinds of emotions, and a yearning to the characters and world.
My greatest satisfaction comes from the culmination of every revelation and plot line being resolved. Not a single side character or side plot is left behind. There are even things bought up from the very first book that proves a major significance to current events going on in this book. Sabaa really is a master when it comes to writing.
Right. Let’s get down for some opinions:
- The Ending. I genuinely think Helene’s ending is harsh. Truly, I think she may be one of the only characters (apart from Musa) who has lost every single person she has truly loved. It’s so heartbreaking, watching her just grief over and over again. I think keeping at least Livia alive would have been a bit fair?
- Livia. As much as I get killing off characters is the fashion in fantasies, I was so excited to learn more of Livia as we got more internal glimpses into the strength of her character. I wished she stayed for more chapters or at least made it till the end.
- Marcus. I have to say, even though Marcus appeared only a handful of times during his reign as Emperor, he was a fantastic villain. He was so horrific and insane (literally!) that I did not know what to expect each time he came up in a chapter. Just a well written unhinged “Joker” like villain.
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