Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Monday, 29 June 2015
An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1), by Sabaa Tahir
Publication: April 28, 2015, by Razorbill
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Dystopian
Pages: 446
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

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.

My Thoughts:

Since midway through last year, An Ember in the Ashes probably was the only fantasy book that intrigued me so much that I'd pay $100 for a copy at the moment. (Maybe not.) The cover is so gorgeous and you can't deny that, but it's absolutely more than just the beauty on the outside. I apologize for my cheesy saying, by the way. And after finally reading it a little less than 2 months after its initial release, I am so impressed. Now, we're going to get a sequel NEXT YEAR!

I'm one of those people who hates hype. John Green, my favourite author, is all over Tumblr and the hype is certainly on him, and I can't stand it. This book is hyped up in the book fandom atmosphere, and I do admit that I was a little hesitant before picking it up. Fantasy taken place in a Romanesque world? That may actually go either one way or another, I feared. Thankfully this went to my standards and I highly recommend it for lovers of all fantasy, whether it's Sarah J. Maas or Rae Carson. Everyone will love this, whether you're a contemporary romance reader or a pure fantasy chick. 

"But why am I counting the days? The days don't matter. I'm in hell. A hell I've made myself, because I am evil. As evil as my mother. As evil as any Mask who spends a lifetime relishing the blood and tears of his victims."

Compared to many books because of the issues that it speaks of, politics and world building is a major subject that readers often focus on in their reviews of this book, and I agree with their sayings. This world is brutal, period. If you only enjoy happy settings that doesn't include racism, sexism and slavery, then I'd suggest leaving because this ultimately has it all. Of course, I find myself standing against these issues, but the message that our four main characters: Laia, Elias, Helene and Commandant all share have to do with this and their viewpoints on each. Some are complete idiots and think it's fair (COUGHcommandantCOUGH) while others are trying to fight against it and for survival.

What can they do? Look at the social classes, for example.

That's what Tahir is trying to prove. Although we have two perspectives, there are similar and distinct views onto those characters: a slave and a soldier. Yes, there is magic and fantasied objects and events that occur, though that has nothing to do with an ember in the ashes, and by that phrase, I do not mean the title. You know how some books have such useless titles that do not describe the book at all or vaguely? That's the total opposite situation of this, because I cannot imagine a better way to state Laia's standing in all of this. She's constantly victimized of her social status and Tahir's research is very much needed in this subject. I love the author's story of the inspiration for this novel, as she's always been a huge fan of fantasy and the fact that issues are effecting many people in this world. A lot of this sounds like the horrendous situations like child slavery and child soldiers that we hear of frequently. INSPIRATION IS MAGIC, as I continuously believe and never will stop doing so.

As for social statuses, there are a few but the Martial rule the setting. In this case, we meet Laia and her grandparents and brother, who she lives with after being orphaned. When her brother gets arrested for treason unexpectedly, Laia decides to go out and find him. Then she meets the rebels behind her family's history who actually knew her parents, and she exchanges a deal with them: they'll find her brother while Laia will go to Blackcliff Academy, a military academy, to spy on the Commandant and her doings, a ruler, basically. Then she meets Elias, the son of the Commandant and...

No, they don't fall in love. What basically intrigued me to read this book from the start was that there's no romance. At least, there isn't instalove or kissing or any of that. A girl or a guy can dream and fawn over an attractive person (like Elias did in the beginning of Helene), but I'd say that this wasn't Tahir's goal to satisfy readers. Instead, they gain a friendship that they can actually agree upon things with. Although Elias is his mother's son, the magical thing is that he stands against everything that she believes in and all that she does to her slaves. He immediately can recognize who Laia is but she doesn't say anything, all for the part that his mother annoys him. Friendship? I'd call that a sibling-like relationship. It's adorable, but not in the lovey-dovey way that we'd all expect. I'm actually not hoping for anything to brew in the sequel. *takes a deep breath*

"Tomorrow you must make a choice. Between deserting and doing your duty. Between running from your destiny and facing it. If you desert, the Augurs will not stop you. You will escape. You will leave the Empire. You will live. But you will find no solace in doing so. Your enemies will hurt you. Shadows will bloom in your heart, and you will become everything you hate—evil, merciless, cruel."

Sabaa's writing is unlike any other author's, I HAVE TO SAY AND FANGIRL ABOUT. She's obviously talented, and the way she bonds her characters with readers illustrates that she put tons of hard work into making them just like us, only living in a crashing world that ours can eventually turn into. She's so imaginative, and I bet that after even spending an hour with the fabulous writer, we'll all sound so brilliant quoting her. She knows what she's doing, and I'd like to give her a huge hug for writing such a beautiful novel. I can't get enough of it, and my mind is jumping all over the place as I think of theories onto what'll come next.

The only downer is the pacing, but let's just forget about that. I won't mention anything about the pacing because I don't want to spoil my positive mood, but let's just say that it got too slow at times, showing all of the details without readers having to even guess what it means or what's yet to come. It just ended up being such a racing novel that I had to grip on my seat. (No joke.) 

At the same time, this isn't your average, typical straight-forward fantasy story that has hints of dystopia where you can't depict what the author's message is. Tahir's imaginative characters and building, such as the Masks and weapons used, is so descriptive and unique that I can't get a hold of anything else quite better. This absolutely has to do with the Roman Empire and I love that about the setting. We get to see hints of history that actually is the future, which has us guessing on what we will become. History always repeats itself, is another theme, especially by looking onto the slavery conveyed. It's such a dark novel that splits readers onto the good side or the bad, and we fall in love with all of the characters... even Commandant. (Rosamund Pike would be a good her, now that I think about it.) 

This book was horribly disgusting and brutal. But in that sense, you do know what I mean. It's NOT BAD AT ALL (I'd die if someone thought that's what I meant) and it actually shattered my heart so many times that I'm going to take some time off of my life and find an ember in the ashes. Yes, I'm that inspired. Tahir's viewpoint on fantasy is so much bigger and better than what your typical fantasy novel consists of, and I'm sure that we all end up seeing this as a comfortable read that doesn't make us barf because of guts and all of that. I'm sure that I'll be dreaming about Elias tonight, he makes me giggle.

SOOOO... What do y'all think of surprise news of contracts with authors? Sabaa just announced that THIS AWESOME BOOK will get a sequel next year! I'M DYING OF HAPPINESS RN JUST SAYING.


  1. There has been so much hype over this book lately. I'm glad you enjoyed it:) I just finished Heir of Fire and kinda need a break from fantasy.

    1. Exactly! Just like Red Queen (I NEED TO READ THAT) and We Were Liars, which wasn't for me. Hyped books go either way, and I'm usually the black sheep! :) Thanks! HoF, OMG. THAT ONE WAS FANTABULOUS! I get what you mean with fantasy overload! There's usually so much info-dumping that every book eventually sounds the same! :D


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