Razorbill: 464 pages | Buy it on Amazon | Indie Bound
AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is a thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and pulse-pounding read. Set in a rich, high-fantasy world with echoes of ancient Rome, it tells the story of a slave fighting for her family and a young soldier fighting for his freedom.
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.
An Ember in the Ashes is a young adult fantasy about Laia, a girl fighting for her family, and Elias, a soldier fighting for his freedom. Laia and Elias live under the brutal rule of the Martial Empire. When circumstances cause their paths to cross, they realize their fates are connected, and that their choices will change the very future of the Empire.
2. What was your inspiration for writing AN EMBER IN THE ASHES?
I was inspired by two things. First, my childhood: I grew up in an isolated town in the Mojave desert where I didn’t feel like I fit in. I was picked on and I watched my parents and family deal with a lot of racism so I felt very voiceless and powerless as a kid. I found my voice through writing, and in 2007, decided to write a book about people who felt like me as a kid. People who felt like they didn’t belong, like they didn’t have a voice. At the time, I was reading about some truly powerless people—survivors of the Sudanese genocide, family members of the disappeared in Kashmir, child soldiers in Colombia and the DRC. It all combined to plant the seed for EMBER.
3. What kind of research did you have to do to make sure your characters were authentic?
Character-wise, I felt pretty comfortable with Laia and her voice. But Elias is a warrior, and I am not. So in order to tap into his emotions more authentically, I conducted interviews with modern-day warriors in the hopes that I’d learn something useful. I spoke with police officers, an FBI agent and a West Point cadet. In the process, I feel like I was able to understand, to some degree, what it means to have the soul of a warrior, and I tried to incorporate what I learned into Elias’s story.
4. There has been a call for more diversity in speculative/sci-fi and fantasy books. Why do you think those genres are easier to “whitewash”?
I don’t necessarily think these genres are easier to whitewash. It’s just that, for many years, the series’ that these genres were known for were almost all written by white males. (Octavia Butler is a noted exception.) And for whatever reason, those authors didn’t really branch out to include much diversity when it came to their characters. Fortunately, that’s starting to change.
5. How does the diversity in your book relate to your life?
I am a South Asian who lived in a small town, and never felt like I fit in. So the isolation and loneliness that the main characters feel is directly tied to what I experienced as a kid and young adult.
6. What are some of your favorite YA books about diverse characters or by diverse authors?
“Under a Painted Sky” by Stacey Lee. “The Wrath and the Dawn” by Renee Ahdieh. “More Happy Than Not,” by Adam Silvera and “None of the Above” by I.W. Gregorio. “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson.
7. What areas of diversity do you want to draw attention to or do you feel are underrepresented in young-adult books?
I think pretty much every type of diversity is underrepresented in YA. We need more books about people of color, people with physical or mental disabilities, people who identify as LGBTQIA, people who have been abused, people who have struggled with depression. Everything.
Interested in the book? Make sure to read our Book Discussion at The Reading Date, Gone Pecan’s Pros and Cons List, and We Heart YA’s post “Seeing Both Sides: AN EMBER IN THE ASHES and Dual POVs.”
Stay tuned in May when we discuss SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli!