Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Laia and her family do not challenge the Empire. They've seen what happens to those who do.
But when Laia's brother is arrested for treason, she 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. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined - and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.
2 influences convinced me to read this book. The 1st was Killian McRae - author extraordinaire, RBC member, and valued FB friend. She raved about it and gave it a 5/5. The 2nd factor, and the one that cemented it, was that the author is local. So I ordered it from Recycle, picked it up the next day (they had it in the store), set aside the 6,528.5 books in my TBR pile, and got right to it. I mean, I'm always looking for RBC authors (even though we are currently booked through October!). This is my public THANK YOU to Killian.
Having gushed, let me tell you that it took me a while to get hooked. The 1st 100 pages (out of 446) were good. The 2nd 100 pages hooked me. And the last 250 pages flew by. I literally hated to put it down (is there such a word as unputdownable?). I've read books (Gone Girl, A Man Called Ove, and Everything We Keep anyone?) where this has happened. But rarely has it been so dramatic.
There are numerous reasons why I liked An Ember in the Ashes so much:
1. The story alternates chapters between the 2 main protagonists - Laia, a slave, and Elias, potentially a future leader for the Empire. It reminded me of A.R. Silverberry's Wyndano's Cloak. Every time a chapter ended, I was disappointed. But then the other star of the story started up. And I was disappointed when that chapter ended. This went on all the way through Ember.
2. There was suspense every few pages. When I saw Ken Follett quite a few years ago, he said that he likes to have something dramatic happen every 7 pages. That's what this felt like.
3. There were several different romantic elements that I enjoyed and that fit perfectly into the story. And in the case of each protagonist, there were 2 potential love interests. In fact, I have to shamefacedly admit that there is one scene late in the book that reminded me of something that happened earlier this week on the last episode of The Bachelor (yes, you are reading this correctly). Nick looks at the loser of the 2 remaining women, and you know that he's picking the other one. Same thing here.
4. I had a whole bunch of emotional reactions, leading to physical reactions. There is one chapter where such a heinous event happens, that I had to put the book down for a (very short) time to collect myself. Do you remember when I spoke about a similar scene in Dennis Lehane's Any Given Day? I've always said that an emotional connection doesn't have to be a happy one.
5. The writing is darn good. Here are a very few examples:
a. "I stare at her, realize I'm staring, tell myself to stop staring, and then keep staring."
b. Referring to laughing - "The release is foreign and familiar, like crying, but without the pain."
c. "It's not true, my head tells me with the zeal of denial."
d. "...warmth flows from her fingers into my body, like spiced cider on a freezing morning."
e. "It is smooth and warm, like rock polished by water and then left to heat in the sun."
f. "...worse than I could have imagined. More than I could have hoped for."
So what do I think of this book? I finished it on Tuesday...and ordered book 2 on Wednesday. Does that answer your question?
P.S. I'm sorry to say that there are only 2 in the series so far. Rats.