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Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Book: An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir
Series: An Ember in the Ashes #1
Publisher: Razorbill
Release Date: February 9th, 2016

 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’ve read a lot of books lately, but none that completely wowed me. I enjoyed them, sure (except one or two) but I was never dying to read 24/7 or willing to stay up late to read them.

But finally, I found that in Ember in the Ashes! I was enthralled from the very first page and fell in love with our main characters, Laia and Elias. It also made me hate certain characters with a burning passion, hoping they would die gruesome deaths. Needless to say, this book had my emotions all over the place. It was horrible and amazing all at once. Only certain books have ever made me feel this way, and I'm so glad An Ember in the Ashes is one of those books.

So what’s the story? It’s told from the point of view from both Laia and Elias (something I've noticed a lot of YA authors are doing lately). This world is under the rule of the Empire, led by the Emperor, and life is quite hard for a lot of people. Laia is a Scholar, and she lives a simple life with her grandparents and brother after the deaths of her parents and older sister when she was younger. Elias is a soldier in the Martial Empire and has spent 14 gruelling years training to be the “perfect” soldier. He’s about to graduate and become a proper Mask. Despite this, he hates being a part of the Empire’s army and is planning to desert so he can finally get his freedom.  Oh, and did I mention he’s also the son of the Commandant, the most ruthless, sadistic, evil bitch you’ll ever read about? No? Oops. She is the Delores Umbridge of this world, she’s so terrible. Another reason why he needs to leave!

Laia’s brother was always sneaking out at night, something which is forbidden. When his actions finally catch up with him and their house is raided by cruel Masks, Laia is forced to run from her childhood home and seek help from the Resistance, a group of rebels whose ultimate goal is to overthrow the Emperor. But they aren’t going to help Laia for free. She has to go undercover as a slave in Blackcliff Academy, where Masks are trained, and spy for them, and then they’ll free her brother. However, she is to be the slave of the Commandant, who enjoys beating and punishing her slaves simply for breathing, and where slaves are normally raped by the students of the Academy. Laia has to tread extremely carefully to survive.

And oh, how amazing it was to read. Laia is so completely unlike any heroine I’ve read about, and it was simply divine to read. She’s not brave, or fearless, or stubborn. She has no temper. She does her part and prefers when other people can do the hard parts of life.  She starts off so meek and unsure of herself, regretting running when her brother was taken, afraid to speak her mind. But throughout the book, we see her slowly come out of her shell. Because of the harshness of her surroundings, Laia becomes a survivor. She endures such cruelty and becomes stronger because of it. It was so great! I was cheering her on until the very end.

I also loved Elias, the soldier. He’s ruthless when he has to be but he’s also kind-hearted and generous at the same time. He’s treading a dangerous line too, having to pretend to be the prefect soldier when he’d love nothing more than to escape his life. But there’s always something that he needs to do, something that prevents him from running. He and Laia meet and even though they’re from opposite sides of the world, they also understand each other in a way no one else does.

It’s a slight romance, there’s a bit of a triangle, but it’s done wonderfully. It’s so subtle. I normally hate love triangles as most of them are the same, but not this one! Love is not important, and it’s put completely on the backburner. Laia’s one and only focus is on her brother. The romance isn’t important, but there are some small moments between characters that are so precious to read because they’re so scarce.

What else can I say? This is a dark and twisted book that will make you happy cry and sad cry at the exact same time. You’ll hurt over the pain the characters go through but scream when they’re finally victorious. You’ll have to put the book down and throw your head into your pillow to control your emotions (guilty).

It’s a fantastic start to a new series and I can’t wait to pick up book 2 and stay in this world!


  1. This book is such a great one! I mean, how scary was the Commandant? She outright terrified me! I can't wait to see how Elias and Laia will bring her down. I'm currently waiting (in agony) for my copy of A Torch Against the Night to arrive...

    1. Look at it this way, Erika, the longer you have to wait for A Torch Against the Night to arrive, the less time you'll have to wait for the sequel (which doesn't come out until 2018!) The Commandant absolutely terrified me, and I can't wait for her to die a death ten times the pain she inflicted on others!


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