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An Ember in the Ashes    by Sabaa Tahir order for
Ember in the Ashes
by Sabaa Tahir
Order:  USA  Can
Razorbill, 2015 (2015)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Here's a very exciting opening to a new fantasy series for older teens, Sabaa Tahir's An Ember in the Ashes. In this world, the Martial Empire rules with a heavy hand, in particular over the Scholar people. Their legionnaires are feared, especially the dreaded Masks. But the Resistance does fight back.

Young Laia, a Scholar, worships her elder brother Darin. Their parents and sister were killed by the Martials and they've been raised by their grandparents. One night, Darin returns home from an outing (despite the curfew) closely followed by Martials. They kill the old folk and take Darin, but Laia escapes - and is afterwards ashamed that she did so. She seeks out the Resistance in the catacombs.

Elias is a Mask, having survived Blackcliff Military Academy's brutal training for the past fourteen years. He's very good at what he does but wants out and has everything in place to desert. His only regret is for his close friend Helene, who does everything by the book. She would never understand and would report him immediately if she discovered his plans. And the vicious Commandant (his mother) would execute him immediately.

When Laia seeks the Resistance leader's help to free her brother, he demands something in return. She poses as a slave and infiltrates the Academy as servant to the Commandant, a woman who tortures and mutilates for the slightest fault. There she encounters Elias, who has been persuaded by an Augur foretelling to stay (the Augur calls him an 'ember in the ashes'). He, Helene and two brothers (one of whom is Elias's nemesis) are selected to take the Trials, after which the Augurs will choose a new Emperor.

Will Elias survive the trials against magical beings; can Laia live through her enslavement to the Commandant (who allies with great evil, Nightbringer); how will the Elias/Helene/Laia love triangle develop; and what will Darin's fate be? Read this engrossing story to find some of the answers. This first episode ends on a cliffhanger that leaves readers anxious for more. I look forward to it!

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