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.
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
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.
I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of this ARC at ALA Midwinter in Chicago this January. I had heard such great things about it was always "one of the next books" I was going to read. Then I discovered that author Sabaa Tahir was going to be one of the authors signing at an event at McNally Jackson's bookstore in New York City while I was there for BookCon. I brought my copy of Ember to get signed, and I ended up choosing it as the book to read while I traveled, based entirely on the fact that it was the largest book I was carrying. (Well, also because it's my book club's read for June.)
I didn't expect to finish it so quickly but due to traffic and weather and other uncontrollable things, I spent a lot more time traveling than I expected. Thank goodness for this book! There were several times where I was sitting in a cab freaking out that I wouldn't make it somewhere on time and then I thought to myself, "There's nothing I can do about it, so let me just read." In the anxious state I was in, not all books would be able to completely take my mind away from the present. But Ember did.
I think my favorite part of this book was that I continuously switching my ships! Basically, whenever there was a romantic scene I was like, "Aww! I like these two together!" Then the next romantic scene, even if it was one of the same characters as the previous and a different character, I thought, "Aww! But I like these two together, too!"
The world was action-packed and terrifying. I would never ever ever want to live in it. We got such great backstory on these characters, that with the exception of a few, I understood their actions and sympathized with them. The things these characters were asked to do were horrifying and fascinating -- I was so sad for them, but I couldn't stop reading. I was impressed with how they handled them.
It looks like the sequel finally got the green light, and thank goodness! I don't think anyone would be okay with leaving the story how the ended.