Thursday, September 17, 2015

An Ember In The Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

From Goodreads

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.

Rating: 5 Stars

An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy debut novel from author Sabaa Tahir. This novel has it all and is absolutely spectacular in every area: plot, characters, setting, conflict, and romance. While reading this book I had to keep reminding myself that this is a debut, not because it had any issues, but because it was so spectacular that I was amazed that this was Sabaa Tahir’s first book. She is an astounding storyteller, her world building skills are impressive, and the characters are very well developed and unforgettable. I don’t even know how she could get any better.

One of my favorite things about this book is the unexpected way it started. I had a feeling that it would be a fast paced read and I wasn’t disappointed. I read this book in two sittings. My friend Eve at Functioning Insanity and I decided to read this as a read-along. Since the book is 450+ pages, we decided to split it in two sections thus allowing us to talk about the story as we read (and constantly think/obsess about it when we weren’t reading it). Even with the book being quite long, I still wanted more when it ended; I never wanted it to end.

The world created by Tahir is very unique in the fantasy genre; the Martial Empire is inspired by the Roman Empire which we never get to see in the fantasy world. The Empire described is brutal, death surrounds its citizens at every corner. The Empire has its people living in fear and in horrible conditions. The Scholars, who are at the lowest level in the Empire, live in the most despicable levels of poverty, and some are forced into slavery. The Martials Empire is training some of their chosen children at Blackriff in order to make them become a Mask, the most elite class of ruthless soldiers in the Empire.

There are many characters introduced throughout the novel, each well developed and important to the story. The main two characters, Laia and Elias, were absolutely amazing. The story is narrated in alternating points of view of both Laia and Elias.

Laia is a Scholar, who lives with her grandparents and brother as both of her parents were killed. When her brother is arrested for treason, she decides to try everything in her power to save him. Her best hope is to locate the Resistance and align herself with them in order to free her brother, Darin. However, everything has a price and the price the Resistance demands from Laia is information that she is to obtain while being a spy posing as a slave at Blackriff. With Darin’s life at stake, Laia feels like she has no option but to become a slave for the Commandant, the head of Blackriff and also the most cruel and ruthless person in the empire. The Commandant also happens to be Elias’ mother.

Elias, even though he is currently training to be a Mask, doesn’t want it. All he wants is to get as far away as possible from all the horrible things, brutality, and ruthlessness he is faced with every day at Blackriff. And even further, from his mother, the one who seems to hate him most. Just as he is making the last preparations for his escape, he is chosen to participate in the Trials in order to become the new Emperor. The Trials are the most gruesome of tests in which four chosen candidate from Blackriff must compete, with the last man/woman standing becoming the next Emperor/Empress.

Laia and Elias’ paths seem to cross more and more as the story evolves. The dual points of view allow us to get to know the two main characters very well. I like how as the story evolves and the Trials transpire, Elias, who is introduced as a strong character but through the Trial he weakens emotionally and is desperate for an escape, while Laia grows from this very innocent and naïve girl into a very strong protagonist. The contrast in the two main characters development was absolutely fascinating to read.

There were many other side characters that were introduced as the story progressed, each was very well developed and very intriguing. Tahir took her time developing their personalities and getting the reader invested in their future.

An Ember in the Ashes is an action packed story that has it all: love, loss, hope, fear, betrayal, friendship, and sacrifice.  The depth of the story combined with the intricate plot and the multitude of characters allowed the reader to judge and determine who they thought they could trust and who they wanted to root for. The ending was somewhat of a cliffhanger, as there were so many things left unanswered. There were many things that Tahir introduced and hinted at throughout the novel but never fully developed, that will leave readers longing for the sequel.

An Ember in the Ashes is without a doubt one of the best debuts for 2015 and one of my new all-time favorite novels. The author took me on a wonderfully thrilling adventure, that was heartbreaking at times, but that showed me the true value and power of love. The relationships and friendships developed in the midst of a pretty horrific world shows just what lengths we as humans are willing to go to for those we love and cherish, and the sacrifices we are willing to make. Tahir’s writing style is absolutely flawless. This was a phenomenal read that has me convinced that I will read anything Sabaa Tahir decides to write in the future. Until then, like those who read this before me, I must patiently await the release of A Torch Against the Night, the epic sequel set to be released on April 26, 2016.


  1. Pretty much what you said! I'm so glad we read this together because I'm sure if I had read it alone and not had someone to chat with about it my head might have exploded.

    1. I know right? I loved reading this with you. So many emotions!!!