Review: An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir

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

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“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

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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

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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.

OVERALL

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.

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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!

Posted by

Book blogger, travel blogger, writer. 📚 |🌍 | 💞 Writing & Communications Graduate. French. Living on love, wanderlust and ya books.

93 thoughts on “Review: An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir

  1. I was not interested in this book at all when it first came out. I decided to try the audiobook and it was done by the dual narrators that did The Scorpio Races which I loved, so I ended up really liking it. I agree with the whole love square thing, it was the least interesting thing about the novel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ohh I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it – and that the audiobook has such great narrators 🙂 I agree, the whole love situation didn’t really feel…necessary? I hope the sequel won’t focus on that ahah 🙂
      Thank you so much for your sweet comment! ❤

      Like

  2. This is one of my favourite (incomplete) series! It was great seeing your point of view on it. The second book is a roller coaster of emotions, ,et me warn you. But it’s just as amazing, you’ll love it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I just recently read this book and it was amazing. I loved how it started out strong and keep pace through the whole book. I connected so much with the characters that I felt every struggle and tear they shed. Elias was my favorite character to read about though his struggle was amazing to read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes, I have to agree with you – the pacing was always so, so good, it didn’t slow down once and I was never bored 🙂 I can’t wait to read the sequel 😀
      Thank you so much for your sweet comment! xx

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “An Ember in the Ashes isn’t a love-story disguised as a romance kind of book” yESSSS! we have enough of those lol. I have not yet read this book though I have owned a copy for far too long. I’m gad you pointed out the violence from the start, I think this was a reason for which many shied away from this book. I have always had it in my mind to start this series but think I decided to just wait for its completion. Love alternating POV’s, some of my fave books are told in this format so I’m also happy to see this is how Ember was written. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Marie, you’ve reminded me of 1 series I am dyinggg to read haha! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ohhh, well I really hope you’ll give this one a try as soon as the last book is released. It’s so worth it. I have to admit, I didn’t imagine it to be quite violent, so the beginning surprised me a bit – once I knew what kind of book and world this would take me in, well I ended up appreciating it 🙂 Hope you’ll love it! xx
      Thank you!! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m so glad to have come across your review though, now I have a better idea of what everyone was talking about. I honestly love a well developed world & this is at the top of my backlist TBR. I’ll def need to chat about this one when I get to it ☺️💕

        Liked by 1 person

  5. A very interesting review. I personally haven’t read An Amber in the Ashes for the exact reason you mentioned, that being that I’m trying not to read to much of the same type of literature, or it will start feeling repetitive. But I have to be honest, your opinion makes me want to give it a chance, especially when you talk about the power dynamics and the reflections on the all-reaching violence. The love square doesn’t sound very appealing, though ^^

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I completely understand – I know whenever I read too much of a genre, it starts feeling really repetitive and I’m just not enjoying myself. I took quite a break from that sort of dystopian genre and An Ember in the Ashes surprised me. Also, I found it quite refreshing as it’s a mix of fantasy as well, with some fantastical elements. I hope you’ll want to give it a try and that you’ll end up enjoying it 🙂
      Thank you so much for your sweet comment! xx

      Like

  6. Great review! It told me everything g I needed to know about Ember, a book I’ve been sort of avoiding for some reason. Knowing that it’s a real pageturner makes me definitely want to read it now. How would you describe Sabaa Tahir’s writing style? I suspect she has a good way with words and that her writing style might end up being one of my favorites things about the book. I don’t know why I think that, though, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I’m so glad to hear that! I hope you’ll add it to your TBR right away, it was such a great book 😀 I really think that Sabaa Tahir is a fantastic writer – she definitely knows her way with words and how to make you feel things. I didn’t find it too “show-off-y”, if you could put it that way. It’s simple, yet vivid, in the way she sets the scenes, characters and raw emotions they all have. ❤ I hope you'll read it for yourself and love it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Fantastic review, Marie! I’m so happy that you overall really enjoyed this book despite the love-square that was going on! I don’t remember much of my feelings about either book as its been so long since I read them, all I know is that I really liked them! And that I’ll be re-reading them in time for the next book to be released!

    Do you know when you’ll be picking up the next book yet? That one was even bigger in scale of world-building and fantastical elements woven into it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ohh thank you so much, Swetlana! ❤ ❤ This makes me wonder…when is the last book being released? To know how much time I have left to read the sequel, ahah. I don't know yet when I will read it, I do want to read it soon, but…to be realistic, I'm probably not reading it before 2018 ahah. But you make me want to buy it right this second 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  8. For some reason I was never really interested in this one (as in I never looked up what it’s about, read any reviews etc) but it’s been on my radar lately and your review definitely made me want to give this a try! I’m sorry to hear about the love square (I’m already not fond of love triangles, let alone squares haha) but it’s good to hear that the romance isn’t the focus! I hate it when romance all of a sudden takes up all of the plot – as much as I enjoy a good romance, it’s not what I came for with books like this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, yes – if that love square thing was a bit annoying, I was glad because it was here and there, but not the main focus on the story. I couldn’t have handled it otherwise hahaha.
      Thank you so much, Michelle! I hope you’ll read and love this book xx

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m really glad you enjoyed this book Marie, and I hope you enjoy the second in the series just as much when you get around to it! 😀
    I have An Ember in the Ashes on my to-read list for quite a while before picking it up. I think I was a little nervous about the love square in this book but it’s definitely not a main event in this story, like you said, so it was easy to get past that once I started reading. I really loved the world in this book, I thought Sabaa Tahir wrote it really well and oh I can’t wait for the third book, and definitely can’t wait to see what you think of the second. 🙂
    Great review Marie. 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ohh thank you so much, Beth! I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed this series just as much for now – I’m really impatient to get to the second book 🙂
      You’re right, I was glad the whole love thing wasn’t at the heart of the story, it would have bothered me a lot otherwise 🙂
      Thank you!! xx

      Liked by 1 person

  10. WELL I READ BOTH THE FIRST AND SECOND and it was mainly because my friend loooooved it!! AND I READ IT and I… HATED IT I AM SORRY. I freaking hated Laia so much and she’s so annoying and aslkdjfas;lkdfja;lskfjas;lkfjaslkdf.

    Yes, I shy away from the dystopian genre basically 99.99% of the time because USUALLY IT’S ALL THE SAME WHOOPS. I mean, people sometimes say that if you think that you’re reading the same thing– why ARE YOU READING SO MUCH DYSTOPIAN?? And I think that even though dystopian is dystopian and all of them will have similar elements, obviously there’s room for originality.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahahahaha, oh don’t apologize!! We can’t all love the same books, otherwise the world would be pretty boring.
      I agree – there are many similar elements in dystopian books, just like in any other genre. If you read too much from it all, you might get burned out or just forget the difference between them and they all feel the same ahah.
      THANK YOU for your sweet comment! xx

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Glad you liked this Marie! I’m gonna be honest and say that this book just wasn’t for me, I think mainly because I expected something completed different? AND YES ABOUT THE LOVE SQUARE. That was just really weird. And I think my favorite character out of all of them was Helene? She was just badass. And I don’t even remember who Keanan was? Who was that? I thought it was only the three of them hahaha. Oh well.

    Awesome review! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh thank you, Valerie! I’m so sorry to hear this book wasn’t for you – I can understand, though, it’s so disappointing when you pick up a book expecting something, and finding something completely different.
      Ahahah, Helene WAS pretty badass 😛
      Thank you!! ❤

      Like

  12. I really enjoyed this book, but I’ve never felt compelled to read the sequel. I did love the world though, but it had that typical thing where the characters love lives distract them from more important things. I liked your review though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahah yes – I get where you come from. These feelings kind of stood out from the story overall and… I don’t mind a bit of romance, but the whole lot they made about it all felt a bit unecessary. I’m glad you enjoyed the world! 🙂
      Thank you so much, Shanti! ❤ ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I read and loved this book last year, then I got the second one as soon as I could, and I ADORED them both. There was a LOT of romances, but the second book is better with the romances going on I think????? They’ve got more impact I feel, but it doesn’t take over the plot. I feel like the first book was better than the first?? Thooooo you still need to read book 2! I loved your review 🙂

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  14. Over the years my interest in dystopian novels has significantly waned. However, I do like that this book waves some fantastical elements into it and the Ancient Rome inspired world is definitely something that interests me. The weird love square thing, not so much. I’m glad that the love story doesn’t take center stage, but these days I have a zero tolerance policy for all things love triangle/square related haha. The characters do sound wonderful though. I love that Laia doesn’t fall into that typical badass heroine trope and that it’s her resilience to save her brother that drives her. I’m not sure if I’ll ever end up reading this series, but I’ll leave the door open for the possibility.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OH, I get it. I will admit that it bothered me a bit – but I’m more nervous about seeing it develop in the next books. In the first books, it wasn’t quite at the heart of the story, just some scenes, hints of feelings growing here and there, making this weird situation. It wasn’t center stage…for now, I hope it never is 😅
      I hope you’ll want to pick it up someday, Lois, I would LOVE to know what you think of it 🙂 Thank you so much! xx

      Like

    1. Ahah wow, I understand…it starts off in quite a violent way 😅 I didn’t expect that, at first.
      I’m glad to hear you enjoy this series! 🙂 Thank you so much for your sweet comment, Jacqueline! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Great Review! I love dystopian books and it’s my second favorite genre! I’m so glad you loved An Ember In the Ashes! It really was an amazing read. I haven’t read the second book yet but I’m planning to pick it up after the third book comes out. This series has new covers which looks pretty cool btw.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I really enjoyed this book but I have to agree with most of what you said.
    It’s one to slowly fall in love with. Not right away. But that’s okay because it certainly made up for it in the end.
    My favorite relationship is definitely Helene and Elias’. They’re also my favorite characters. I didn’t care much for Laia, although I loved her character development, and certainly not for her love interest (I can’t remember his name…) And the love square just felt unnecessary and forced.
    I also loved the villain. She was terrifyingly cold and vicious. A great addition to the story! Now I can’t wait to see whether the sequel will be just as good 🙂
    Wonderful review, Marie ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh thank you, Sophie! ❤ It really is a book you fall slowly in love with, I agree…Especially with such a strange and strong beginning.
      I really loved Helene and Elias' relationship as well – I love childhood friends so…and the added feelings there had me VERY happy 😅, even if, well… it wasn't really necessary. I could have been happier if there was just the Elias/Helene feeling and just…leave Laia OUT OF IT 😅
      Thank you so, so much!! ❤ ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. YES! Helene was my girl!!! So of course I wanted Elias to end up with her. Their chemistry was off the charts! Elias and Laia felt… Meh. No spark whatsoever. Very instalovey to me.
        I really hope book two doesn’t head in that direction as it would break my heart 😦 *Crossing my fingers here*
        You’re very welcome, hon! ❤ ❤ ^_^

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I don’t know, I feel like the thing growing between Elias and Laia (let’s not call it love, ahah) was a bit too quick as well. I am impatient and nervous to see where book two goes with these characters and their relationships. Fingers crossed, yes! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  17. I heard about the love square, and I have to say that scared me off of reading this. But I didn’t know it was dystopian! I thought it was fantasy ahah. This is what I get for not reading blurbs. :’) It’s great to hear that the characters are multi-layered (tho that love square is still intimidating to me ahha). I’m so glad this turned out to be a good book for you, Marie, and great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, it’s sort of a mixed dystopian / fantasy?! At least that’s how I saw this, ahah.
      The love square was a bit annoying, but it didn’t take such a big place in the story. It was hints, feelings here and there growing, moments….but not really a massive love square with interrogations and so on. So it was bearable, ahah, I was glad it wasn’t the main focus of the story! 🙂
      Thank you so, so much, May!! ❤ ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I read the first two, idk how man are out right now. Like really far apart. A Torch Against the Night wasn’t quite as good, I think because there was so much character in the first and, like, if you read them close together, you would still love the characters, but I had kind of forgotten why I loved them by the time I read the second

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh, damn, that’s too bad :/ I get the feeling, though, sometimes when you read the second book in a series too far apart, you just…forget the thrill and everything you loved in the first book :/

        Liked by 1 person

  18. Love triangle-square thingy doesn’t sound fun at all and I’m also quite disappointed in the recent cover changes for this series but I already have the first two books, so I’m definitely going to give them a try. Glad you loved the world-building. Great review Marie! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh no, I’m sorry you didn’t really like the cover change! I hope you’ll give these books a try, yes, especially if you already own them. I hope you’ll love them 😀 ❤
      Thank you so much for your sweet comment, Poulami ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Ahh this is one of my favorite books, so I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed it! Yeah, the romance is a bit weird here, but i thought it got developed better in the second book. And the characters, oh I love all these characters so much! Elias, Laia and Helene especially, and no I can’t choose a favorite 🙂 Hope you’ll enjoy A Torch Against The Night as well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I’m so glad you thought that the romance was better in the second book. I can’t wait to get to it now 😀 I really loved the world and the characters, it was such a strong start to the series.
      Thank you! ❤ ❤

      Like

  20. Ah this one is on my TBR. I really need to pick it up soon, I forgot I had it until I saw this review actually. Perhaps my next read 🤔
    It definitely sounds like it’s something I would enjoy, I love Dystopian reads. I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy lately so it’ll be nice to read another dystopian again.
    The love square sounds interesting, although I hate Love Triangles. Maybe it’ll be a bit different 😂
    Great review 💕

    Liked by 1 person

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