A quick call out before I start: This series is not yet concluded as of the time I am writing this review. So, I am writing based on the first three books only. There are also some light spoilers in this review.
An Ember in The Ashes By Sabaa Tahir follows a young girl named Laia whose family and her people, the Scholars, have been torn apart at the hands of The Empire. The Empire is an oppressive regime that has taken over the land and enslaved or imprisoned almost all of the Scholars. Laia suddenly finds herself apart from her brother, the only family she has left, who was imprisoned by The Empire because of knowledge he possesses that can be critical to the rebellion against The Empire. In her quest to find and free her brother, Darin, Laia crosses paths with Elias.
Elias Veturius is finishing his final year at Blackliff Academy which breeds Masks. The Masks are the most terrifying and lethal soldiers in The Empire and will stop at nothing to carry out the orders they are given. But Elias is different. He does not embrace the side of him that Blackliff has created, he is gentle and kind and wishes to leave The Empire all together. But he is trapped in this world he was forced into.
When Laia and Elias meet, they are two very similar people, who are living two very different lives. Both Laia and Elias feel oppressed and stuck in a world they did not ask for. But Elias has power and Laia feels helpless. As the series goes on, they find they will play very important roles in each others’ journey to freedom from their oppressors.
The very interesting thing about this series is the world that Tahir creates. I listened to a podcast that she was hosted on and she spoke about her background, her family is from Pakistan. She spoke about how she modeled The Empire oppressors after the political strife she came to know within her culture. Laia struggles with this so much throughout the series, the notion of “Why is it always my people who suffer”. That struck me because, doesn’t everyone feel like that sometimes? Whether they are right or wrong or the severity of the oppression varies, we have all found ourselves in some kind of situation where we have asked “Why me” or “Why us”. I think that makes this story relatable to so many readers on so many different levels.
Aside from that, I personally do not enjoy Laia and Elias as characters. Elias is loyal to a fault and finds himself denying so much of what he wants and who he is because of who he thinks he has to be for everyone around him. It gets repetitive and sometimes irritating. In Book 3, I think he started to explore this more and I hope that in Ember #4 he will finally realize what he wants and what he needs to do to get it. Laia falls a bit flat to me but I believe this is written on purpose. Her character development occurs to an extent throughout the books but I think she is still lost in her world trying to figure out what the role she plays really is. And aren’t we all doing the same on some level?
My FAVORITE character is Helene Aquilla. Oh, Helene. Her character development is downright amazing to follow, in my humble opinion. Helene is Elias’s best friend and she has to face so many horrifying things because she is trying to protect Elias from himself. I can’t say much about what she goes through without giving the central plot away but I can say that she is an amazing pillar of strength. And her love for Elias makes her so accessible, especially when it is not reciprocated in the way she desires. Her loyalty digs her into some deep pits that she has to climb out of. But, I am most excited to read about what becomes of her in Ember #4.
Overall, Tahir creates an awesome story that is extremely difficult to put down. There are currently teasers going around about the cover art of Ember #4 and I am already so excited to read it. This is a must read to jump into a world of political strife, love, pain, jealousy and almost everything else in between. You are guaranteed to find a favorite character within this crew.
Let me know what you all thought about this series and how much are anticipating Ember #4!