I have been plagued with this since the moment I started An Ember in the Ashes. Mysteries aren’t my forte and I generally stay away from the entire mystery genre. I can’t stand just not knowing! I’m impatient that way, and since I can’t physically shake the answers out of the book characters, I resort to coming to my own conclusions.
Cook is particularly frustrating. But I have finally come to what sounds like a far-fetched conslusion, but hear me out!
Cook is the Lioness.
Don’t leave! I started to laugh when I thought of this, but then it stayed on my mind. First of all, Laia never saw her mother. Her parents and sister left when she was too young, and she would never have seen their bodies. Resistors wouldn’t be granted the dignity of a funeral and burial with their family.
Cook’s face is brutally scarred beyond recognition, and her voice is destroyed. The fact that her voice is destroyed has a significance if she is the Lioness: she’ll never roar again, and the Commandent wants her to know that. Her hair is white, which is typical of old women, but white hair can come even faster with stress so she may be a lot younger than she looks.
Then there are the odd emotions coming from Cook. When Laia first meets her, Cook stares at her for a moment then leaves the room. We are left to assume that it was because she was ashamed of her scars and because Laia was staring at her. But actually she recognizes Laia as her daughter and starts freaking out. She doesn’t tell Laia who she is because she wants to protect her and is ashamed of what has become of the great Lioness. But at the same time, she cares deeply about Laia, crying when she’s dying and even specifically telling Helene to not hurt Laia in the beginning of A Torch Against the Night. This is interesting because she rarely talked to Laia and they had little of a relationship. Also, her voice cracks when she talks about the Lioness and her husband. She doesn’t like to remember it, which suggests that it had a huge impact on her. She had never told Izzi her name in the many years she knew her, and Izzi even says, “I don’t think she wants to remember it,” which is understandable because of how far she would have fallen from the roaring Lioness. And finally, she tries to warn Laia away from the Resistance, which she feels bitter about because of the traitor and knows that her daughter would be betrayed too.
She is remarkably strong and intelligent for just a normal member of the Resistance. For one, she knew about both poisons and explosives, first poisoning the Commandent and blowing up a large portion of Blackcliff. She also manages to sneak up to Helene in A Torch Against the Night, which is incredible because Helene is a mask and can detect anything. Directly before she tells Helene she will gut her and “no force in this land” will stop her if Helene hurts Laia, she also admits to killing the Mask we know was the one who killed Nan and Pop. Coincidence? I think not. It is also strange that she says ‘which reminds me. The girl–Laia. Don’t touch her,” after she says that she killed the Mask.
But why would the Commandent keep her alive? It’s the simple answer that she enjoys long, drawn-out torture. She is known to keep spies in a torture chamber for weeks at a time. For her enemy, the leader of the Resistance, the Commandent would want to give her the worst kind of torture, something worse than death: letting the world believe her dead and forcing the Lioness to serve the Commandent for over a decade.