Laia and her brother, Darin, have lived with their grandparents in the Scholar section of town ever since her parents were killed by the Martials. As they grew older, the children came to know that their parents were leaders of the Resistance, opposed to the Martials’ occupation and oppression. Years later, Laia suspected that Darin was doing something dangerous, and she worried that the notebook of sketches he kept might fall into the wrong hands. The night that the Martials broke into their home, they killed her grandparents, but took Darin prisoner. Laia ran away and found the leaders of the Resistance. Reluctantly, they agreed to find and free Darin if Laia allowed herself to become enslaved as a servant to the Commandant, the harsh, evil woman who ruled the Martials. Laia was forced to spy on them from inside Blackcliff, the school for soldiers and the center of their power.
Elias grew up with the native tribes, hearing stories of their culture while living with a loving family. When he was six years old, though, he was scooped up by the Martials and compelled into training at Blackcliff. He was a natural soldier: strong, agile, and relentless. He was chosen to be a Mask, one of an elite cadre whose metallic masks become a living part of their faces. Elias’ mask, though, can still be removed, even though he is ready to graduate after all these years. Some people think his loose mask exposes Elias’ true rebellious nature, but they don’t dare say it in front of Elias’ mother, the Commandant.
Both Laia and Elias will have to struggle through tremendous obstacles and grave dangers in order to reach their goals. During the journey, they will come to question their allegiances, their own hearts, and everything they’ve been led to believe. Told in alternating chapters between these two characters, Tahir also weaves in well-drawn secondary characters with fascinating stories of their own. In a nutshell, this is Hunger Games meets Divergent in the Arabian Desert with Roman names and customs. That might sound like a hot mess, but it works—it really works. The good characters are flawed yet earnest enough to be thoroughly lovable, and the bad characters are infuriatingly hateful. Along with the main characters, the reader does not know whom to trust, and even at the end, we are not sure about the path our heroes should take.
Oh, yes, it is a doorstop fantasy and the first of a series. An Ember in the Ashes is Ms. Tahir’s debut novel, and it is the Next Big Thing. I believe the movie rights have already been procured. It is a total page-turner that you and your teens will love. It has quite a bit of violence, and sex is casually discussed, so it is more appropriate for upper teens.
An Ember in the Ashes will not be released until April 28, 2015, but you can reserve your copy at the library right now.
Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this novel. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.