Review: An Ember in The Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

About the Book

Publication Date: April 28, 2015 | Genre: Fantasy | Young Adult | My Rating: 5/5 stars

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.


I read An Ember in the Ashes a month ago during spring break and absolutely LOVED it! Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten around to writing the review until now. Before I get into the review, I want to give a shout out Brittany (@abibliophilesbkm). Brittany raves about this series on Twitter and Instagram and it’s because of her that I picked up this book as soon as I did. I devoured Ember in less than 24 hours and rushed to the bookstore as soon as I finished to buy the second book. It’s been a while since I’ve done that.

Ember is intriguing, captivating, and emotional

It’s also brutal, intense, and violent. I didn’t expect to be drawn into the story as quickly as I did, but I was. It was surprisingly well-paced for a first book without sacrificing world-building or the characters’ development. Ember never took its foot off the gas. The plot moved quickly, the writing was mature, and the characters, their motivations, and internal struggles were realistic. I felt invested in the characters because of Sabaa Tahir’s writing style and found myself still thinking about them and their circumstances after I finished Ember.

The story is told from the point of view of Laia of Serra and Elias Veturius. Laia is a Scholar living in a cruel and terrifying world. She lives with her grandparents and her brother, Darin. When her brother is arrested for treason, she risks everything to rescue him. In exchange for the rebel’s help, she agrees to spy on the Commandant at Blackcliff, a military academy for Martial soldiers. Meanwhile, Elias is a top soldier in the Martial Empire who hates the empire and secretly wants to escape. He is the son of the Commandant and she doesn’t hide her hatred for her son.

What I found most refreshing about Ember were the characters.

The main and side characters were dynamic and interesting. From the moment Sabaa Tahir introduced us to Elias Veturius, I fell in love. Elias is a breath of fresh air in a world where YA male characters toe the line between brooding bad boys and complete jerks. He is precious and too good for this world. Despite his circumstances and being forcibly taken from his foster family at age 6, he remained human and never lost that part of himself. The fact that he managed to remain pure is an incredible testament to his resiliency. He’s also selfless, remorseful, and compassionate. I LOVE ELIAS VETURIUS SO MUCH and he’s one of only two male characters that I actually care about.

Now Laia isn’t a character to sleep on. She is strong in her own way and her character development is authentic and written well. What she endures to help her brother despite her fears and insecurities is insane and courageous! I don’t think I could’ve been subjected to the brutality of what she experienced and come out of it okay, physically or emotionally. I probably would’ve given up. But somehow she perseveres. I liked her growth from a timid and helpless character to someone capable of taking action and making her own decisions. Writing her this way made it more realistic and empowering.

One of the reasons I was afraid to pick up this book was because of a rumored love triangle. I’m not a fan of love triangles. AT ALL. Surprisingly, the love triangle wasn’t a significant part of the book. I was worried that it would be at the center of the story and this wasn’t the case. In fact there wasn’t a lot of romance. Or maybe I was too distracted by pain, violence, and heartbreak at the characters situation to really be bothered by it.

An Ember in the Ashes does so many things well

I thought Sabaa Tahir did a wonderful job weaving these two perspectives, especially as I waited with bated breath for characters paths to cross. I enjoyed the world-building and loved that Ember didn’t feel like a fantasy novel. The fantasy elements were sparingly included and when it was introduced, I was surprised. I enjoyed the complexity and distinctness of the characters. The characters jump off the page and while there was a lot of violence, true freedom seems to be a consistent theme in this book. Ember is action-pack, filled with drama, and perfectly sets the stage for future books in the series.

If you’re in the mood for…an intense Rome inspired story with memorable characters and the best YA male character ever, you’ll enjoy this!

9 thoughts on “Review: An Ember in The Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

  1. I’ll admit that I put off reading this one because I had heard it’s heartbreaking, I think you’ve convinced me that it’s worth it though. Especially since I trust that the characters are as amazing as you say! I’ll definitely have to pick these up this summer! Great review! 💜💜💜

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