Review: An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir

Book: An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Pages: 446
Genre: Fantasy, YA, Dystopia, Magic, Adventure
Published: 2015, Razorbill
Rating: ★★★★

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.

This book was such a page turner.

I’ll admit, after I read the blurb, I was expecting something completely different from what this book delivered, and I couldn’t be happier about being wrong!

I stayed up till 2AM reading it some nights; I just couldn’t put it down. The world-building is based off of Ancient Rome, which, to a wannabe ancient history-buff like me, is absolutely ideal. There was definitely a Sparta vs. Athens vibe going on. Which, *thunder clap* I applaud you for, Sabaa Tahir.

In addition to the unexpected twists and turns, there are also these moments of intense moral clarity, and it’s those moments that make it easy to forgive the slightly clumsy writing and scattered cliché metaphors.

“There are two kinds of guilt. The kind that’s a burden and the kind that gives you purpose. Let your guilt be your fuel. Let it remind you of who you want to be. Draw a line in your mind. Never cross it again. You have a soul. It’s damaged but it’s there. Don’t let them take it from you.”

The character development is just so believable. Laia is scared out of her mind at the beginning of the book, and – as I think is often overlooked in YA fantasy – rightly so! She went through a traumatic experience, and was immediately after thrown into a world set against her. If I were in her shoes, I’d probably be even worse. At first I thought she’d be whining throughout the entire book, but instead she learns how to grow and survive in the horrible circumstances that’ve been handed to her, and all in a very believable and relatable way.

And Elias is such a gem of a character. I loved the moral conflicts he was forced to walk through (talk about making your characters suffer, writers!) and how elegantly his relationships (with his mother, Helene, Laia, and even his grandfather) were handled. He was complex and underwent change and it was all so great to watch happen.

I also really appreciated the amount of action, and how well the fight-scenes were written. It was action packed chapter after action packed chapter, and the multiple POV really helped the narrative along, and kept the suspense up as well!

Overall, this book was a fun, clever and quick addictive read that I’m glad I had recommended to me! It’s not perfect, but it was entertaining as hell. I’m already reading A Torch Against The Night, and that should pretty much tell you everything you need to know about my current state of obsession fangirl.

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I'm Emma Kath. Welcome to my blog! This is where I post my original book reviews, litstyle (lifestyle for the lit-nerd), and other bookish things. A little about me: I'm Canadian, and currently a student majoring in English lit and cultural studies. I'm an introvert (INFJ, if you believe in that sort of thing), sarcastic to the bone, I love art and history, and hope to one day travel around a bit. Until then, I'll be reading, writing, and trying to spread a little kindness around the internet. If you have any questions or inquiries, feel free to contact me!

11 thoughts on “Review: An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir

  1. I actually took a break from this book to read another epic fantasy, which is a little crazy, because yesss, the book is such a page turner! Elias is my fave character ATM, though I do have high hopes for Laia.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I was finishing The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. Normally I try to pace my epic/high fantasies, but I’d been reading Sanderson on and off since May, so I put a stop to reading everything else just to finish, haha.


  2. “Laia is scared out of her mind at the beginning of the book, and – as I think is often overlooked in YA fantasy – rightly so!”

    THIS. I was complaining to my husband about this just yesterday–how waaaay too many YA fantasy and paranormal protagonists face either trauma or the (let’s be realistic here) HORRIFYING realization that the world around them is not what they thought it was (not as safe, not as solid, not as benevolent, etc) and then respond to these events/realizations with, like, brief shock (lasting a few minutes to maybe a few days) before strapping on their Unflappable Badass boots and getting over it. *Shakes a fist.*

    Needless to say, the portrayal of trauma was one of my favorite things about this book, too.

    Hope you’re loving A Torch Against the Night! =)

    Liked by 1 person

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