A Reaper at the Gates_An Ember in the AshesSabaa Tahir
An Ember in the Ashes
“[An Ember in the Ashes] thrusts its readers into a world marred by violence and oppression, yet does so with simple prose that can offer moments of loveliness in its clarity. This complexity makes Ember a worthy novel—and one as brave as its characters.”
—THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
“An Ember in the Ashes could launch Sabaa Tahir into J.K. Rowling territory . . . It has the addictive quality of The Hunger Games combined with the fantasy of Harry Potter and the brutality of Game of Thrones.”
—PUBLIC RADIO INTERNATIONAL
“There comes a moment when it’s impossible to put it down. Sabaa Tahir is a strong writer, but most of all, she’s a great storyteller.”
—THE HUFFINGTON POST
“A setting inspired by ancient Rome; a fierce battle for freedom in the face of tyranny; and a villain who makes Cersei Lannister and Dolores Umbridge look like a pair of pathetic amateurs . . . An Ember in the Ashes is at the top of our must-read list for 2015.”
“Once you get caught up in the story, it’s addictive, and there’s no way you can put it down before you figure out what happens to the characters you have fallen for over the course of the 400 some-odd pages. So I didn’t.”
“An Ember in the Ashes mixes The Hunger Games with Game of Thrones . . . and adds a dash of Romeo and Juliet.”
—THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
“Perfect for fans of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races or Sarah Maas’s Throne of Glass series . . . The book is already set to be a film, which will be EPIC!”
“This epic fantasy set in the Martial Empire has it all: danger and violence, secrets and lies, strong characters and forbidden romance and a touch of the supernatural.”
—THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
“Here’s one of the year’s most anticipated young-adult debuts.”
“Fast-paced, well-structured and full of twists and turns, An Ember in the Ashes is an evocative debut that has left me invested in knowing what happens next.”
“An epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom. It’s a story that’s literally burning to be told.”
“Tahir’s deft, polished debut alternates between two very different perspectives on the same brutal world, deepening both in the contrast. In a tale brimming with political intrigue and haunted by supernatural forces, the true tension comes from watching Elias and Laia struggle to decide where their loyalties lie.”
—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, STARRED REVIEW
“Tahir’s world-building is wonderfully detailed and the setting is an unusual one for fantasy novels. All of her characters, even minor ones, are fully realized . . . For fans of Game of Thrones and of Melina Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock.”
—SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
“An original, well-constructed fantasy world . . . truly engaging.”
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY:
AMAZON, BARNES & NOBLE, BUSTLE, BUZZFEED, HYPABLE, LA WEEKLY, THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY, PASTE, POPSUGAR, INDIGO, SUSPENSE MAGAZINE, and THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.
A Torch Against the Night
“Fresh and exciting. . . Tahir has shown a remarkable talent for penning complex villains.”
“This sequel has a darker tone and even higher stakes than its predecessor, setting the stage for a thrilling conclusion.”
—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, STARRED REVIEW
“Tahir proves to be a master of suspense and a canny practitioner of the cliffhanger, riveting readers’ attention throughout . . . [An] action-packed, breathlessly paced story.”
—BOOKLIST, STARRED REVIEW
“An adrenaline rush till the very last page.”
“A Torch Against the Night is an unabashed page-turner that scarcely ever pauses for breath.”
—THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
“The rare sequel that improves on the original. . . unputdownable.”
—COMMON SENSE MEDIA (FIVE STARS)
“The stakes here are high and the plot runs like a well-oiled machine, ratcheting up the tension with every chapter.”
“Delivers in every way . . . The stakes have never been higher, and the tension is acutely felt as Elias and Laia run for their lives.”
—USA TODAY’S HAPPY EVER AFTER BLOG
“Fast-paced, exciting and full of adrenaline, A Torch Against the Night is everything fans of Tahir’s debut could possibly anticipate in a sequel.”
—BUCKS COUNTY COURIER TIMES
“Thrilling . . . Tahir meticulously plots these novels, ramping up the suspense and including plenty of surprises.”
—THE BUFFALO NEWS
“Let me tell you, it does not disappoint.”
“At last, it’s here . . . It’s as heartbreaking as it is action-packed, delivering a worthy second installment in Tahir’s bestselling series.”
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY:
TIME, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, AMAZON, BUZZFEED, BUSTLE, PASTE, POPCRUSH, and POPSUGAR.
An Imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
RAZORBILL & colophon is a registered trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.
First published in the United States of America by Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2018
Copyright © 2018 Sabaa Tahir
Penguin Random House supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA IS AVAILABLE
Ebook ISBN: 9780448494524
Map by Jonathan Roberts
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For Renée, who knows my heart.
For Alexandra, who holds my hopes.
And for Ben, who shares the dream.
Praise for Sabaa Tahir
PART I: THE KING OF NO NAME I: The Nightbringer
IV: The Blood Shrike
VII: The Blood Shrike
X: The Blood Shrike
PART II: INFERNO XI: Laia
XIII: The Blood Shrike
XVI: The Blood Shrike
XIX: The Blood Shrike
XXII: The Blood Shrike
XXV: The Blood Shrike
XXVIII: The Blood Shrike
PART III: ANTIUM XXXI: The Blood Shrike
XXXIII: The Blood Shrike
XXXV: The Blood Shrike
XXXVIII: The Blood Shrike
XLI: The Blood Shrike
XLIII: The Blood Shrike
PART IV: SIEGE XLVI: The Blood Shrike
XLVIII: The Blood Shrike
LI: The Blood Shrike
LV: The Blood Shrike
PART V: BELOVED LVII: The Blood Shrike
LVIII: The Soul Catcher
LIX: The Nightbringer
About the Author
THE KING OF NO NAME
I: The Nightbringer
You love too much, my king.
My queen spoke the words often across the centuries we spent together. At first, with a smile. But in later years, with a furrowed brow. Her gaze settled on our children as they tore about the palace, their bodies flickering from flame to flesh, tiny cyclones of impossible beauty.
“I fear for you, Meherya.” Her voice trembled. “I fear what you will do if harm comes to those whom you love.”
“No harm shall befall you. I vow it.”
I spoke with the passion and folly of youth, though I was not, of course, young. Even then. That day, the breezes off the river ruffled her midnight hair and sunlight poured like liquid gold through the sheer curtains of the windows. It lit our children umber as they trailed scorch marks and laughter across the stone floor.
Her fears held her captive. I reached for her hands. “I would destroy any who dared hurt you,” I said.
“Meherya, no.” I have wondered in the years since then if she already feared what I would become. “Swear you would never. You are our Meherya. Your heart is made to love. To give. Not to take. That is why you are king of the jinn. Swear it.”
I swore two vows that day: to protect, always. To love, always.
Within a year, I had broken both.
* * *
The Star hangs from the wall of the cavern far from human eyes. It is a four-pointed diamond, with a narrow gap at its apex. Thin striations spiderweb across it, a reminder of the day the Scholars shattered it after imprisoning my people. The metal gleams with impatience, potent as the glare of a jungle beast closing in on prey. Such vast power within this weapon—enough to destroy an ancient city, an ancient people. Enough to imprison the jinn for a thousand years.
Enough to set them free.
As if sensing the armlet clinging to my wrist, the Star rattles, yearning toward the missing piece. A wrench shudders through me as I offer the armlet up, and it oozes away like a silver eel to join with the Star. The gap shrinks.
The four points of the Star flare, lighting the far reaches of the speckled granite cavern, eliciting a wave of angry hisses from the creatures around me. Then the glow fades, leaving only pallid moonlight. Ghuls swish at my ankles.
Beyond them, the Wraith Lord awaits my orders, along with the efrit kings and queens—of wind and sea, sand and cave, air and snow.
As they watch, silent and wary, I consider the parchment in my hands. It is as unobtrusive as sand. The words within are not.
At my summons, the Wraith Lord approaches. He submits reluctantly, cowed by my magic, straining always to be free of me. But I have need of him yet. The wraiths are disparate scraps of lost souls, joined by ancient sorcery and undetectable when they wish to be. Even by the Empire’s famed Masks.
As I offer him the parchment, I hear her. My queen’s voice is a whisper, gentle as a candle on a chill night. Once you do this, you can never come back. All hope for you is lost, Meherya. Consider.
I do as she asks. I consider.
Then I remember she is dead and gone and has been for a millennium. Her presence is a delusion. Her voice is my weakness. I proffer the scroll to the Wraith Lord.
“See that it finds Blood Shrike Helene Aquilla,” I tell him. “And no other.” He bows, and the efrits sail forward. I order the efrits of air away; I have a separate task for them. The rest kneel.
“Long ago, you gave the Scholars knowledge that led to the destruction of my people and the fey world.” A jolt of memory ripples through their ranks. “I offer you redemption. Go to our new allies in the south. Help them understand what they can call forth from the dark places. The Grain Moon will rise six months hence. See it done well before then. And you”—the ghuls press close—“glut yourselves. Do not fail me.”
When they have all left me, I contemplate the Star and think of the treacherous jinn girl who helped bring it into being. Perhaps to a human, the weapon would shine with promise.
I feel only hatred.
A face drifts to the forefront of my mind. Laia of Serra. I recall the heat of her skin beneath my hands, how her wrists crossed behind my neck. The way she closed her eyes and the golden hollow of her throat. She felt like the threshold of my old home when the rushes were fresh-changed. She felt safe.
You loved her, my queen says. And then you hurt her.
My betrayal of the Scholar girl should not linger. I deceived hundreds before her.
Yet unease grips me. Something inexplicable occurred after Laia of Serra gifted me her armlet—after she realized that the boy she called Keenan was naught but a fabrication. Like all humans, she glimpsed in my eyes the darkest moments of her life. But when I looked into her soul, something—someone—peered back: my queen, gazing at me across the centuries.
I saw her horror. Her sadness at what I had become. I saw her pain at what our children and our people suffered at the hands of the Scholars.
I think of my queen with every betrayal. Going back a thousand years, to each human found, manipulated, and loved until they freely gave me their piece of the Star with love in their hearts. Again and again and again.
But never had I seen her in the gaze of another. Never had I felt the sharp blade of her disappointment so keenly.
Once more. Only once more.
My queen speaks. Do not do this. Please.
I crush her voice. I crush her memory. I think I will not hear her again.
Everything about this raid feels wrong. Darin and I both know it, even if neither of us is willing to say it.
Though my brother does not speak much these days.
The ghost wagons we t
rack finally roll to a stop outside a Martial village. I rise from the snow-heavy bushes where we’ve taken cover and nod to Darin. He grabs my hand and squeezes. Be safe.
I reach for my invisibility, a power awoken within me recently, and one that I’m still settling into. My breath wreathes up in white clouds, like a snake undulating to some unknowable song. Elsewhere in the Empire, spring has scattered its blossoms. But this close to Antium, the capital, winter still whips its chill fingers across our faces.
Midnight passes, and the few lamps that burn in the village sputter in the rising wind. When I am through the perimeter of the prisoner caravan, I pitch my voice low and hoot like a snowy owl, common enough in this part of the Empire.
As I prowl toward the ghost wagons, my skin prickles. I whirl, my instinct rearing in warning. The nearby ridgeline is empty, and the Martial auxiliary soldiers on guard do not so much as twitch. Nothing appears amiss.
You’re just jumpy, Laia. Like always. From our camp on the outskirts of the Waiting Place, twenty miles from here, Darin and I have planned and carried out six raids on Empire prisoner caravans. My brother has not forged a single scrap of Serric steel. I have not responded to the letters from Araj, the Scholar leader who escaped Kauf Prison with us. But together with Afya Ara-Nur and her men, we have helped to free more than four hundred Scholars and Tribesmen over the past two months.
Still, that does not guarantee success with this caravan. For this caravan is different.
Beyond the perimeter, familiar black-clad figures move in on the camp from the trees. Afya and her men, responding to my signal, preparing to attack. Their presence gives me heart. The Tribeswoman who helped me free Darin from Kauf is the only reason we know of these ghost wagons—and the prisoner they transport.