Review: AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir

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.


5 shinning stars for this fantastic debut novel by Sabaa Tahir.
An Ember in the Ashes is without a doubt the best book I’ve read so far in 2015 and overall one of my favorite fantasy books ever.
I’m a big fantasy fan and this book delivered big time, while also incorporating a bit of dystopian into the story. A society under The Empire’s oppression and complete control, yet one where magic and the supernatural still exists.
If I had to pick a word to describe An Ember In the Ashes, it would be intense! This story had me at the edge of my seat from page one till the very end.

Laia is a scholar who will end up seeking the help of the rebellion in hopes of freeing her brother from the hands of the Empire. The rebellion needs inside information and they will devise a plan to infiltrate Laia into Blackcliff as The Commandant’s slave. They have promised her to do their best to get her brother out in exchange.
Laia has an interesting family past, one of bravery, strength and loyalty, though when we first meet her she is scared and not very assertive. She will have to start believing she can complete this mission if she wants to see her brother again and survive being the commandant’s slave.

Elias is a soldier, a mask, one of the best Blackcliff has produced in years. The irony of it all is that Elias hates who he is and what he will become once his training is complete and he graduates.
Elias has a fate to fulfill even though he struggles to come to terms with it. 

"You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it."

What do you do when you have a destiny to fulfill? A destiny that’s everything you despise, a destiny that guarantees you will never be free?

Both Laia and Elias will have to make choices and fight for what they believe in if they ever want to be free.
Laia being a slave for the Commandant and Elias being a student at Blackcliff pretty much guaranteed their paths would cross. The romantic side of this story, I think takes a bit of a background role. I specially liked that at no time did it overshadow the main plot, yet it was there nonetheless and I’m so here for this ship!
Romance wasn’t super simple though, as there is a bit of a double love triangle here. Hello Keenan and Helene!

“I never feared the night, not even as a child, but Blackcliff’s night is different, heavy with a silence that makes you look over your shoulder, a silence that feels like a living thing.”
Blackcliff is not an easy place to grow up in and Elias and Helene have been together forever, training to be masks and serve the Empire.
Helene, unlike Elias, is committed to the Empire and is exceptionally loyal both to her duty and Elias.
As it sometimes happens though the lines of friendship will blur and one of them will develop unrequited feelings for the other.
I didn’t particularly like Helene, I found her to be to close minded, she wasn’t willing to even consider that what the Empire was doing was wrong in so many levels, all she knew was that she was a soldier who served the Emperor and followed orders obediently.
Keenan on the other hand was an unexpected love interest, and I very much liked him. I feel Keenan is in the rebellion for the right reasons and his heart is in the right place. 

This brilliant story wouldn’t be complete without a villain and while there is no shortage of that, the one that sticks out the most is the Commandant.
She is one of the vilest villains I have ever encountered in a book. She truly is a heartless woman. I think she lets us see how cold and emotionless she really is when she talks about her son and the feelings of resentment she harbors against him. She is truly and absolutely horrible.
This is who Laia ends up being a slave for and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared for her every time she was in her presence. 

A new Emperor must be chosen and for that there are trials, the best of Blackcliff will compete against each other and the one that survives it would be chosen Emperor and the second one will swear fealty to him/her. The third a fourth are not expected to survive.  Both Elias and Helene have been chosen to compete in the trials and the Commandant will do everything in her power to see them fail. 

Did I mention that the ending almost gave me a heart attack!? It was without a doubt one of the most thrilling endings ever, I had no idea what was happening and who was walking out of it! So so good!

Action packed and fast paced, honestly impossible to put down. What I liked the most tough was the character development. The Elias and Laia we meet at the very beginning are not the same we end up with in the end. There was so much growth, so much finding themselves and making choices that would change their lives, as they knew it. 

"You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes. That is your destiny."

Two people and two paths that will cross because they are both destined for great things. They are both embers in the ashes that will burn bright.
I couldn’t recommend this book enough, don’t walk to get it, run! Like right this second.
The sequel titled “A Torch Against The Night” will be released April 2016 and it is positively my most anticipated release! 


Sabaa Tahir grew up in California’s Mojave Desert at her family’s 18-room motel. There, she spent her time devouring fantasy novels, raiding her brother’s comic book stash and playing guitar badly. She began writing An Ember in the Ashes while working nights as a newspaper editor. She likes thunderous indie rock, garish socks and all things nerd. Sabaa currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family. 


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