Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Publication date: Apr. 28, 2015
Publisher: Razorbill
Category: Young Adult - Fantasy
Source: Borrowed from Alexa (Thanks!)
Summary: Under the Martial Empire, 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. 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
This review for An Ember in the Ashes is a hard one for me to write. If I’m going to be honest right off the bat (and I’ve decided that I am), this is what comes to mind when I look back on this book. When it was good, it was heart-pounding, edge of my seat good. And when it wasn’t, it was dragging my feet through the mud slow. Was it worth it for me to push myself through those parts? Most definitely. Because two-thirds of the way, the characters and the story seriously hit the ground running and I was turning each page frantically to keep up. I know that when book two comes out, I’m reading it.

The author does a fantastic job of world-building. It’s high fantasy at its finest. There are various castes of people and the two most prominent in this story are the Scholars, who lives impoverished and in fear, and the Martials who have long since ruled the Empire and will anyone who defies them. The book alternates between Laia and Elias. Laia is a Scholar, keeping her head down and living with her grandparents and older brother. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia decides she will do anything to save him. Including spying for the rebels from within the Empire’s most prestigious military academy, even if it means losing her life to do so. It’s here that she encounters Elias, a Mask and the school’s best soldier. What she doesn’t know is that he doesn’t want anything to do with it. He wants to be free of the empire, the violence and the soullessness. But a twist of fate forces him to stay at the Academy and before they know, their paths become more and more intertwined. In other words — chemistry, forbidden love and a connection between them based on some sort of innate understanding.

In case you couldn’t already tell, their relationship was a highlight for me. I felt like their characters were much stronger together than they were apart. Part of it had to do with giving readers a very elaborate world-building versus throwing us right in (I admit, I go back on forth as to which I like best. A bit of both?). The other is that both Laia and Elias are stuck and you feel that. Laia is sheltered and suddenly becoming a spy is way over her head, at first. But she’s smart, kind and most of all, determined, and those qualities eventually shine through. For Elias, his frustration is rooted in this life he had no say in. He’s torn between loyalties, family and friendship. It’s once they start making defiant choices and we get a true sense of urgency that the story hooked me.

Do I recommend?
I do. Despite the slow beginning, I kept pushing myself because I had a feeling the end would pay off and it did. I think the book is a fairly solid introduction to the series and I know I’m looking forward to seeing where the author takes Laia and Elias next.


  1. I've just started this book, and I've already been stunned on page 20 with the first of what I'm guessing will be many harsh scenes. Even though I've only read one chapter from Elias' point of view, I already like him. Sabaa Tahir has written him in just the right way, it seems.

    I'm anticipating a rather stressed out couple of days from this one based on my (very limited) experience so far!

  2. Glad you enjoyed this one despite the slow start. There have been *some* mixed reviews, but it definitely sounds like a book I want to read, so I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Great review!! :D

  3. Can't wait to get my hands on a copy, but hopefully I'll be prepared for the slow beginning!

  4. I'm still so happy that you wound up enjoying this one, even though the pacing was a little bit questionable. I really, really liked An Ember in the Ashes, mostly because I thought it felt so creative and so interesting in terms of plot and characters. Can't wait to read the next one!

  5. Loved the individual characters in this book and the world, hope to see them all further fleshed out in the sequel. I especially love Lais and her growth. But the one that stole my heart was actually Helene!

    Fantastic review :D

    Aentee @ Read at Midnight

  6. I've got this one on my TBR, and I appreciated getting your perspective! I don't mind a slow start *if* it pays off in the end, and it sounds like it will with this one. And I was excited to hear there's going to be a sequel, especially since I've read a few reviews that weren't satisfied with the ending.

  7. This is only Tahir’s debut novel so I can't wait to see what else she comes up with. I would hope this book is the start of a series because I want to see more of this world, although “Ember in the Ashes” stands well enough on its own. But still, a sequel would be nice. Just sayin’.


with love,