“Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after. Such moments are tests of courage, of strength.”
I usually prefer reading books in English, but this one I actually read first in Norwegian and then went back to get the English version just because I was captivated by it the first time I read it. An Ember in the Ashes was one of those books I misjudged the first time I saw it, thinking, this might not be good but I’ll give it a try – and gosh I was wrong.
It is a fascinating tale filled with two complex characters, struggling their way through life and finding their paths crossing. Laia the Scholar girl that finds herself alone in the world and Elias the soldier, trying to separate himself from the silver mask he is forced to wear.
The story is fast paced but still manages to capture the reader by telling the story from the two main characters perspectives, Laia and Elias. Laia is not your typical heroine – and this is where I found myself struggling a little with her. I have read so many books lately where the heroine is strong, independent and even cruel (And I Darken) that meeting a protagonist that is scared and cannot seem to be able to stand up for herself was almost provocative. Almost I say, because reading on, you remember, who Laia is, she is young, inexperienced, and finds herself suddenly in a position where she has to either survive or die. This also makes her journey more interesting, she has to change to survive. And after the first few moments of me being annoyed at her for not being able to fight back, I appreciated the realism of her character. Not everyone turns in to a heroine from the first moment, sometimes, you have to grow.
Elias is in many ways the opposite, a good soldier, who knows what to do to survive – but plotting to escape the life he has been forced into. Throw in the Commandant – a woman that reminded me of Umbridge – and you have a young boy struggling to deal with who he is and what his path might lead him into. So when Laia and Elias cross paths, this cannot be anything else but an interesting and captivating story.
The world they are a part of, is clearly inspired by ancient Rome – which made it even more fun for me as the history geek I am, but still claims its own nature and culture which builds up the tension of the story. You think you know this world, but then you realise you clearly do not.
In many ways it is the classic tale of the oppressed and the oppressor – but the difference here is how much of this brutality is directed at children. There is torture, abuse and literally no mercy for anyone. Which also raises the stakes for the plot, as a reader you find yourself being worried for the characters. Or well, I was not too fearful for Elias, I was sincerely worried for how Laia would survive this journey. At certain points I was sure she would not. The same goes for Elias’ bestfriend Helene Aquilla, that encountered situations, that as a woman, I was really hoping she would be able to avoid. This is a character I really wanted to get to know more, and luckily for me, I did in the sequel.
Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot – so much that I went back to get the English version, and then went straight to get the next one; A Torch Against the Night. I have to give credit to the translated version too, usually I find the translated versions to be less good than the original ones, but this time I was impressed.