Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Published: April 28, 2015
Genre: YA Fantasy
Length: 446 pages
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.
*Note: This review is going up months late – I’m extremely sorry for that. However, as I’ve just finished reading An Ember in the Ashes’ sequel, I found new motivation to post this review ASAP. Expect a review of A Torch Against the Night to be going up within the next few days, too!
After hearing so much hype about An Ember in the Ashes for so long, I was honestly really reluctant to pick it up – I was pretty sure it wouldn’t meet the unrealistically high standards that had been set for it. But, when I finally did end up picking up a copy, I absolutely flew through it because I couldn’t bring myself to put it down at any point. It was gut wrenching, fast paced, action packed, full of twists and turns, and at times, absolutely horrifying.
I loved (almost) everything about it.
I really liked the packaging of this book – it’s so beautiful in person, and I like that it hints at the book’s fantasy/dystopian themes. My only complaint is that it almost causes An Ember in the Ashes to come off as a fantasy-romance novel – that’s what my initial impression of it was, and it’s partially why I took so long to finally read it. However, that’s not what this book is at all, and I kind of wish the cover reflected that.
Sabaa Tahir, I’m so sorry for ever doubting you. Sabaa Tahir weaved this story so well – her writing was dynamic and fast-paced (this could be mildly problematic at times, but more on this later), crisp and clean, and extremely easy to follow and read (despite the explicit subject content). I also really enjoyed the dual perspectives – Elias’ and Laia’s voices didn’t blend together and end up sounding like the same person, but rather, Tahir was able to write them with individuality and uniqueness.
However, when it comes to the pace, I did think that things got a bit too fast towards the end of this book. Events began developing so quickly that I felt almost confused and overwhelmed, and had to actually go back and re-read a few pages in order to fully comprehend what was happening. However, since the pace was meant to mimic the urgency the characters actually felt (and how fast it felt like events were happening to them), I didn’t have too much of a problem with this.
I loved the characters of this book so much, guys. So much. Laia, Elias, Helene, Izzy, and Cook were such phenomenal characters (especially Helene – Helene Aquilla is everything to me). Even the characters I didn’t love whatsoever (Marcus) were written extremely well and were three-dimensional. Yes, Marcus is an awful, despicable human being – but he’s still human, and we were able to see traces (albeit the smallest traces) of humanity in him throughout this book.
When it comes to Laia, she’s such an easily loveable character. She’s kind, she’s sweet, and she’s actually pretty innocent – even naive. I loved the fact that she isn’t naturally a ‘strong, badass’ female character. She wasn’t born with fighting instincts, she’s not physically tough, and actually, most of the time, her first instinct in a dangerous situation is to run. What I loved about reading about her was her character progression – the fact that she had to go against her every instinct in order to put herself in direct danger to try and find her brother. The fact that she becomes more courageous as the book goes on, and begins to find confidence. The fact that, when it comes down to it, she has a fierce spirit that isn’t easily defeated.
As for Elias, I loved reading from his perspective of the story so much – there was always so much action and conflict occurring, but I especially loved reading about his internal conflict. I loved reading about how hard he struggled to come to terms with the awful things he had to do, and I loved reading about how badly he wanted to leave and escape from the horrors that surrounded him – there was a constant struggle for him to understand whether or not he’s a good person, and I was proud to see him find peace.
Another character that I really want to spend some time talking about is Helene – oh my God, I absolutely love Helene Aquilla. She’s unbelievably strong, loyal, fierce, and full of love, while still being made vulnerable to the reader. I genuinely felt so awful for Helene throughout a lot of this book – she’s sacrificed so much for the people she loves. I’m beyond excited to continue reading A Torch Against the Night so I can follow a story through her perspective.
That all being said, I did have a huge issue with the romantic plot of this book – in other words, the <spoiler> love square </spoiler>. I’ll talk about this more when I discuss the plot of this book, though.
Seeing that high fantasy is one of my favorite genres, I loved being able to read about the brutal world of the Empire, and I loved being able to follow the different stories of Elias and Laia. If I had any critique about the setting of the world itself, I would say that I wished there had been more world building – I would have liked to have been able to understand the world of the Empire even better, as well as its full history.
Also, I was kind of obsessed with reading about the trials that Elias had to go through (I have a thing for characters having to pass elaborate tests). Were the trials the most effective (or logical) way to select a future Emperor? No, but it made for good content! – and honestly, amongst all the brutality in the Empire, as well as its very culture, I don’t expect the process to be either efficient or logical.
However, like I mentioned earlier, I took serious issue with <spoiler>the love square </spoiler>. I’m not a fan of romance in books as it is, so when there was a literal <spoiler>plotline following the romance crossing between 4 characters, I felt a little annoyed. I honestly found it to be unproductive and kind of pointless – mainly because the only romance I was actually able to believe was the romance between Helene and Elias, due to the fact that they had been so close for so many years. All other romantic plotlines felt way too rushed and inauthentic</spoiler>. That’s honestly my one of my largest critiques when it comes to this book – otherwise, I loved nearly everything else about it, to the point where there are no flaws large enough for me to mention.
I loved An Ember in the Ashes. A lot, if you couldn’t tell. I happily give it a 4.5/5 star rating, and I can’t wait to revisit its world in A Torch Against the Night, to reunite with Laia, Elias, Helene, Izzy, Cook – everyone.