There are no spoilers in this review.
When I started reading An Ember in the Ashes, I clearly remember thinking that this would be a hard book to read. After staying away from the dystopian genre for a little while, getting back into it with a clear “bang” was hard, especially for a book like An Ember in the Ashes. The book starts of with scenes of chilling violence, people taken away from their homes, murder. If any of these things is a little triggering (see the bottom of this review for all the trigger warnings), I would advice to stay away from this book. If it’s not, well I would advice the very contrary. Despite this rocky, stressful beginning, I slowly ended up falling in love with An Ember in the Ashes. .
A COMPLEX DYSTOPIAN WORLD
“Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after. Such moments are tests of courage, of strength.”
A world inspired by ancient Rome. An Empire, the Martial Empire. The Martials rule over the Scholars. Obviously, there are Resistants. I’m not going to stay too long on the world-building anyway, because it’s something, in any book, you should experiment for yourself. Instead, I’ll just say this: Sabaa Tahir develops a very complex, intriguing dystopian world, one that took me a little while to get accustomed to, one that was chilling from the very beginning. It’s a violent world for sure, but it’s also quite captivating. I wouldn’t quite describe the world as a pure dystopian kind of world, as there were some intriguing, fantastical elements woven into the story as well. Jinns, ghuls and wraiths appearing here and there, mysterious powers at stake… Strangely, everything in the world-building was well-done, I didn’t feel that it was a weird mix of it all – on the contrary: if the world is complex, Sabaa Tahir manages to put it all together in a beautiful way, without info-dumping, but progressively taking us into this new, chilling world.
TWO CHARACTERS AND IMPRESSIVE CHARACTER GROWTH
Telling this story from two point of views was a smart choice, allowing us to see the world from “both sides”, the Martials and the Scholars, giving it more dimension and sense.
“You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes.”
On the one hand, we get to follow Laia, a Scholar teenager living with her grandparents and her brother. When her brother gets taken away to prison and most probably to his death, all she wants is to try and save him. What I appreciated a lot here, is that Laia is not a strong character, like the ones you often see in these kind of books. She’s weak, she runs away, she doesn’t fight as fiercely as you would expect someone in her situation to. Yet, something inside of her drives her forward, her brother, this need, this want to save him at all costs. Laia goes through one of the best character – growth in the story, as she asks help from the Rebellion, as she becomes a slave and so on. She was silently growing stronger and stronger, confident and overall, I really loved her.
“You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”
On the other hand, we get to follow Elias, son of the Commandant of an Academy of Soldiers. Destined to kill, destined to become Masks, the ones raiding homes, raping slaves and killing people overall. FUN, right? Yeah, not so much. As an elite solider, he is supposed to embrace this destiny, yet all Elias wants is his freedom. There is stunning growth here and there as, if, from the beginning, Elias wants to escape, his need get stronger and stronger as the book happens and terrible things happen just as well. Sorry. No spoilers.
A SORT OF WEIRD LOVE-SQUARE-THINGY
Something that might have bothered me the most in An Ember in the Ashes, is the weird relationship going on in the whole book. We could call it a love-square, even if some relationships aren’t as developed as others, that’s basically what’s going on. Elias is attracted to Helene, his best friend in the big Soldiers Academy… and there’s a strange attraction thing going on with Laia as well. It’s the same for Laia, when it comes to Elias ; and she’s also quite attracted to Keenan, that handsome resistance guy. Soooooo. Weird moments here and there, especially since, for me, the only relationship in this love square that was interestingly developed and deserved the time on the page, was Helene and Elias’ story. As, you know, they have some background. The attraction between Elias and Laia was…well, it was predictable, obviously, but I would have liked more development in it overall. I’m guessing that’s why this is a series?
“She has no idea how pretty she is—or what kind of problems her beauty will cause for her at a place like Blackcliff. The wind pulls at her hair again, and I catch her scent—like fruit and sugar.”
THAT BEING SAID, I have to mention that, if feelings are brewing here and there, An Ember in the Ashes isn’t a love-story disguised as a dystopia kind of book. It’s, before anything else, a thrilling, dangerous read that’ll keep you reading long after you should have stopped, one that’ll almost make me miss your train stop and read way after your lunch break should have been over. Will Laia save her brother and to which extend will she go to do so? Will Elias gain his freedom, or only tighten his links with the Empire more? There is so much at stake here and so many questions you’ll want answered.
If you’re enjoying dystopian books, interesting, multi-layered characters and don’t mind the bit of violence here and there, an Ember in the Ashes really is a thrilling read you should try out for yourself.
Final rating: 4 drops!
Trigger warnings: physical violence, death, murders, mentions of rape, slavery.
Sabaa Tahir, An Ember in the Ashes, Published by RazorBill, April 28th, 2015.
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.
Did you read An Ember in the Ashes? Did you read the first book, or the second as well? WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT ALL?
Do you want to read this book? Why, or why not?
Do you sometimes shy away from the dystopian genre, because you’re getting a bit tired of it all? Let me know in comments!