In An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, Laia and Elias occupy very different places in their militaristic society, but both are equally trapped. Laia is a slave at an elite military academy where Elias is a student. Upon Elias’s graduation, when he had planned to escape his life long role as a soldier of the Martial empire, it is determined by fortune telling augurs that he is a candidate to become the new emperor. This news, unwelcome to the existing imperial family, sets Elias upon a series of dangerous and deadly quests.
Laia’s slave status is hiding the fact that she is also working secretly with the underground resistance of her people, the Scholars, against the Martial empire. In an effort to save her brother, she has agreed to infiltrate the commandant’s household. The commandant is vicious, bloodthirsty, and Elias’s estranged mother.
The details of this story’s plot, its thrills and intrigues, are not what ultimately make it an amazing read. What makes this book stand out is the intensity of the emotions and the knife edge of tension that the author maintains without draining the energy of the reader. One caution offered: due to the degree of violence in the book, both physical and sexual, this is best kept to high school readers.
Sydney is the younger sister of Peyton, who has always been the star of the family in Sarah Dessen’s Saint Anything. Peyton has landed in jail after a drunk driving accident caused him to paralyze a teen boy. Even with Peyton in jail, Sydney still feels lost in his shadow. Her dad continues to ignore the family and her mom obsesses over Peyton’s well being in jail.
Sydney needs a break from all the drama, so she enrolls at a new school – the local public school rather than the private school she had been attending. Much to her surprise, Sydney manages to make friends and a life at her new school despite her overwhelming guilt over what her brother did. Saint Anything is a solid realistic fiction offering with genuine feeling and completely plausible characters. Sydney’s friends – the new and old – are fully realized people in their own right. The pain that Sydney and her family experience feels true to life. The only down side to this book is that it feels like I’ve read this story before in other novels. It’s a good book, but not a unique one.
And the winner is…For its pure emotional power and unique fantasy world, An Ember In the Ashes wins this bracket.
WINNER: AN EMBER IN THE ASHES BY SABAA TAHIR
Reviewed by Julia Driscoll, Matteson Area Public Library District