An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. Unabridged audiobook on 12 compact discs. 13.5 hours. Read by Fiona Hardingham and Steve West. Listening Library, 2015. 978110890776. (Review from finished copy borrowed from the public library)
The action starts with a bang as Laia and her brother, Darin attempt to escape a Mask raid of the home they share with their Scholar grandparents, Nan and Pop. Laia suspects her brother is working with the Empire thanks to the smell of metal and the sketches of weapons in his sketchbook. But the Masks arrive to arrest Darin for treason. So, is he working for the Resistance? Laia's parents and much older sister died working for the resistance. She is not smart and brave like them. At Daren's insistence, she flees; but has no idea where to find refuge. The Marshals and the Masks have an iron-fisted hold on the mostly oppressed population of the Empire. In desperation, she searches the catacombs for the Resistance.
Chapters alternate between the first-person narrations of Laia and Elias. Elias is about to graduate from his Mask training. He is Blackcliff Academy's most brilliant and gifted student; but he hates what he is being trained to do and is plotting escape. But no one deserts the Academy. Deserters are always caught and always tortured, usually to death.
The emperor protects himself with elite guards but there is a power struggle going on among the elite in addition to attempts at sedition by the Resistance. Elias finds himself entangled in a three-way competition to become the new emperor. He crosses paths with Laia and their fates become entwined.
Why do fantasy books always seem to be narrated by British narrators? Hardingham and West's performances were pitch-perfect. It turns out Hardingham is not new to me. She narrated another favorite audiobook of mine, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Hardingham's musical voice conveys Laia's fear well. West's growly snarl is my newest voice crush. (I mentioned this in a FB post and someone posted his picture to my timeline - he's not hard on the eyes either!)
A Torch against the Night by Sabaa Tahir. Unabridged audiobook on 13 compact discs. 15 hours. Read by Fiona Hardingham, Steve West, and Katharine McEwan. Listening Library 2016. (Review from purchased finished copy)
The only good thing about being late to the party around a smash hit it that there is less time to wait to read the sequel. I did need to buy my copy though because none of the libraries in my library cooperative had acquired the audiobook yet.
A third narrator was added to A Torch against the Night. Helene's POV alternates with Laia's and Elias' POV and it's quite effective. Not wanting to unintentionally spoil either book one or two, I will say that A Torch against the Night was such a satisfying sequel. It hits the ground running and the suspense remains high for most of the book. I did not skip a day of reading with my ears and had to double up for the final discs. My heart was in my throat for most of the books. There were so many twists and turns and I loved the addition of the Bloodshrike's point of view. There were tears when a favorite character dies and shrieks at a fairly big and surprising reveal. The violence quotient remains high. There was lots of brutality. I cannot wait for the next book and hear that two more are planned.
The performances were first-rate. I highly recommend this series.