April 22, 2015

An Ember in the Ashes - Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes book cover
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: April 28, 2015
Source/Format: Gifted by Brianna (Thanks!) || ARC
[I received this novel for review. This in no way influences any of my opinions.]

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.

It's not quite right to say that I enjoyed An Ember in the Ashes, particularly when the plot is full of hardship for main characters Laia and Elias. It seems much more fitting to use the word impressed, as Tahir definitely wrote a story that doesn't hold back the punches. I admire the way Tahir wove her harsh setting, complex plot and fascinating characters into such a rich, engaging tale. 

The narration alternates between Laia, a slave girl determined to do whatever it takes to save her brother, and Elias, the finest soldier of his class who doesn't actually want to be a soldier. Both have clear motivations, even if their actions get muddled by the external forces surrounding them; both are strong and smart, as well as unwilling to see others hurt. While there was a slight similarity between their chapters, having them alternate allows readers to get a bigger picture of their world. Even though I admired their fortitude and wits, I will say that I never got fully swept away into their lives.

There is nothing easy about reading An Ember in the Ashes. This plot is full of brutal twists and painful turns, and honestly, it wouldn't surprise me if many readers found it hard to read about the difficulties Laia and Elias experience. The Martial Empire is spearheaded by a people who relish control, and keep a hold of it by brutal physical enforcement - in other words, rule by fear and strength. There's talk of rape and murder, of pain, scars and torture. It's definitely not fun to read about, and there were definitely moments that made me personally uncomfortable. But it fits perfectly with the strict, scary world that Tahir has conjured for this tale, and so, I was willing to accept the things that happened as consequences of that environment and its citizens.

All in all, for a debut novel, An Ember in the Ashes is really good. It might be a bit dark, with all the bloodshed and battle. But it still has just the tiniest glow of hope running through it - a true ember in the ashes for this tale It ends on a high note, but still leaves room for an additional chapter (or twenty) in both Elias and Laia's lives - and I would happily read more, given the chance.


  1. Your thoughts are exactly my thoughts. It's hard to really gush and love something when the world you're reading about is so terrible. But it was a high concept and intriguing idea and I definitely wanted some sort of continuation. Glad you liked it!

  2. I agree - this book was so dark but I could not stop reading it! Great review :-)

  3. An Ember in the Ashes is getting strong, positive reviews, it seems. I've recently read Half Bad and I got that "uncomfortable" feeling several times. Like, wait wait this is too much!

  4. Gorgeous review Alexa :D I'm so glad you liked this book a lot. <3 Ack. I have heard so much about it. It sounds SO AWESOME :D And omg, it is dark? I love dark books. Now I'm even more excited, lol :) Thank you for sharing about it. <3

  5. Nicole @ The Quiet ConcertMay 2, 2015 at 8:32 PM

    I hope there is a sequel to this book! While it WAS hard to read, I couldn't get enough and I still want more!


Thanks for leaving a comment! I love seeing what you have to say, and will try to reply (here or on Twitter) as soon as I can :)