Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa TahirAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Published by Razorbill on April 28, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 464
Buy on Amazon

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.

An Ember in the Ashes was another on my highly anticipated books of 2014. I wouldn’t say that I loved it, but I also didn’t hate it. I’m feeling a little conflicted about how exactly I feel about this book. I would recommend it to anyone who’s interested in it. It certainly delivers an interesting and well wrought story.

The story follows Laia, a freewoman turned slave in a ruthless empire that has subjugated her people, and Elias, a soldier of said empire, who believes what they do is wrong and wants to be free of it.

Sounds like a great set up, right?

Here were my three biggest problems with this book:

1) Misery heaped upon misery. I guess I’m growing out of the age where I enjoy reading miserable books where everything is miserable. I think there were maybe one and a half happy moments in this book. That’s just not enough for me. I find it hard to enjoy a book where everything is as horrible as it can be and there are practically no light moments. This book is full of torture, the threat of rape, violence, nightmares coming true…it’s just painful all the way through.

I feel like the fact that there were generally good/somewhat happy people among the soldiers is just unrealistic. And if they were good people, they wouldn’t let some of the things that happened at Blackcliff continue. They just wouldn’t.  Elias struggles with the idea that his soul is wrecked because of his life at Blackcliff, because he grew up among the Tribes people who are loving and free, but no one else seems to, no matter how horrible their training (and let me tell you, I’m surprised so many of them actually survived their training).

Imagine it being the Hunger Games except, everyone (no matter who they are) just gets killed for no reason right when they show up. Or tortured. It’s kind of like that.

2) Laia and Elias were so disconnected for most of the book, which I think is what made me feel disconnected from them. The POV is split between the two, but they hardly ever see each other. And while I of course wanted them to get together because it felt the most natural, it didn’t even have to be a romantic attachment between the two. I just wanted them to be connected somehow and they weren’t for the majority of the book.

3) There are not one, but two love triangles in this book. A love hexagon. I feel like I don’t even really need to explain this one.  (I’m rooting for Elias and Laia).

Otherwise, the setting is well fashioned, good world building, and there are plenty of interesting sub plots, with Laia spying for the Resistance, Elias having to go through the Trials to try to become the next Emperor, the Augurs (holy men) involvement in everything. It’s likely that I will read the second one when it comes out, but I wouldn’t say this was as good as I was hoping for.

This book is filling the category “Debut Author” in my Full House Reading Challenge.

Conclusion: This book is pretty awesome. Next time you’re at B&N you should pick this up.


  1. Tracy (@Cornerfolds) says:

    No!!! I hate that you didn’t love this book! I actually liked that it wasn’t a happy book. It felt REAL! I did feel like the misery was realistic based on other cultures that I’ve studied/read about, but I can understand how you could view it as far-fetched.

    I can understand why there were good people that “let” things happen at the school too. I was in the military for awhile and I can totally get why people might just go with the flow in this case (unfortunately). Mostly to stay alive, I’m guessing, and honestly, brainwashing is a powerful thing.

    Obviously, I loved this book!! Your issues with it are totally understandable, but I’m glad you still enjoyed it!
    Tracy (@Cornerfolds) recently posted…Book Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. MaasMy Profile

  2. Rabiah says:

    Glad that you didn’t hate it at least! Sad that you didn’t enjoy it as much as you wanted to though… I’ve only seen raving reviews so yeah even my expectations are pretty high. Can’t wait to pick this one up though. Great review 😀

  3. Olivia says:

    I think a lot of people had to stop reading this novel simply because they found it too depressing. I don’t mind the occasional dark and downer read, but sometimes it just gets a bit too heavy. I will make sure I am in the right mood before starting this read!
    Olivia recently posted…Ruination (Review)My Profile

  4. Cayt says:

    I’m right there with you, rating-wise. I actually really enjoyed this book but I did have some serious issues with it as well. Mainly, the romances and love square. So freaking annoying. I hate love triangles as it is so this whole deal annoyed me from minute one. I also felt that Elias and Laia were good for each other but didn’t have that much legit connection. There was more connection between the best friend character for Elias than Laia.

    I actually really love the darkness though. I appreciated that there was essentially nothing happy in this book. I think it’s pretty realistic, if depressing, that the few good people around are letting the terrible leaders do what they like, to stay out of the spotlight. There was some seriously dark stuff in this book and I loved it!

    My other biggest issue was that nothing really happened in this book by the end. Yeah, they got away, but the brother is still in jail, same place as always, and nothing has changed for society. Hopefully the sequel will get going quickly and pick up the pace.

    I still really enjoyed it though. The world building felt really well thought out and deep to me. I loved the historical aspect as well.
    Cayt recently posted…Award – Beautiful Blogger AwardMy Profile

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