Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes (#1 An Ember in the Ashes)
by Sabaa Tahir

Genre(s): Young Adult, Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication date: April 28th, 2015
Pages: 446 Pages
Source: Library
Format: Hardcover

SYNOPSIS: 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.

Trigger warnings: Sexual assault (rape)


Note: I do discuss some specific names and relationships. However, I don’t discuss the fate of these relationships or the plot.

  • The story is quite slow at the beginning and only begins to pick up around the 100+ page mark but nothing a dedicated reader can’t endure. (It is worth the wait)
  • Though nothing in the synopsis truly stood out to me as revolutionary, Sabaa Tahir was able to write out the story in an extremely authentic way. The novel had a very good balance between an engaging plot and an exploration of character morality and emotions. Although I must say that Elias’ storyline showed a lot more of this than Laia’s did.
  • Though Laia and Elia’s storylines start off as separate (and will unavoidably become intertwined), I found that Laia’s wasn’t developed as much. Though her back story and motivation for pushing through her difficulties were very much real and rooted in something she felt strongly for, the rest of her story and the whole Resistance concept felt severely underdeveloped in comparison to Elia’s story.
  • Another doubt I had was about Laia herself. I feared she would be proven as a “weak” character and then receive no character development. However, Sabaa Tahir challenged my expectations and the character arc that Laia underwent was really nicely done. The author kept the characters consistent and therefore, the story played out smoothly.
  • I really appreciated the romance in this book! Although it played out to be a major plot point near the end of the book, it wasn’t overbearing and it held respectable restrictions. This judgment could, however, be biased since I’m a sucker for romance but I also know an unrealistic, burns-too-bright relationship when I see one. And this isn’t it!
  • Keenan and Laia’s relationship always confused me as I found there to be no foundation or development of this relationship whatsoever. It felt like whatever “thing” the author was trying to create was unnecessary and fell flat for me.
  • My opinion of Helene was varied throughout the book but solidified into positive respect by the end. My confusing feelings of her arose through the fact that she would show a softer side of herself and then by the next chapter, she would be back to the harsh, law abiding warrior she was. However, I do understand why this was and I appreciate the author’s consistency.
  • There were some inconsistencies/unexplained situations in terms of the world building. When the Moon Festival is discussed and two of the characters go to have Moon Cakes I was confused. I thought that the characters lived in the desert and by the sound of their full names, they certainly didn’t seem Chinese. However, this was only a minor event and was one of the only inconsistencies I could find with the book.

Overall, I loved this book and Sabaa Tahir’s engaging writing just made it that much better. Elias is totally swoon worthy (I couldn’t not mention it merp) and that cliffhanger at the end of the book…

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars



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