Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir cover shows a girl with hair blowing in the wind behind a crouching warrior in a hooded cape.

An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1)
Sabaa Tahir
Razorbill Press
Published April 28, 2015

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About An Ember in the Ashes

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 on Goodreads

My Review

I feel like the last person in the world to finally read AN EMBER IN THE ASHES. I’ve had a copy for years, and still, it took me forever. Not for any reason to do with the book. I heard Sabaa Tahir speak in 2016 at YALLFEST, and have been a fan of hers since then. For some reason, it has just taken me FOREVER to read her books. Can I just pretend I’ve been waiting until the fourth book is published before starting the series so I can binge read them? (Actually, no, I can’t, because the fourth one doesn’t come out until next year.)

Anyway, I really enjoyed the setting of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES. I like the desert setting and the complex political landscape. It’s not as simple as the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad. I liked that a lot.

And the character development. Laia grows SO much from the first page of the book to the last, and I love that. I found it so easy to identify with her timidity and her commitment to rule-following and staying safe at the beginning of the story, but I cheered for her every step of her journey, too, as she got bolder and more fierce.

I love that the story feels like it has so many layers, too. Laia and Elias each have goals and plans. The resistance has a plan. The emperor has a plan. And the Augers (like fates) have a plan, too. It definitely makes the story feel larger-than-life and like there are so many places it can go.

I think readers who enjoyed the DIVERGENT series by Veronica Roth or THRONE OF GLASS by Sarah J. Mass will like AN EMBER IN THE ASHES.

An Ember in the Ashes on Bookshop

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 16 up.

Laia has bronze skin and dark hair and is from an oppressed and often enslaved people called Scholars.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used very infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. Some references to sex.

Spiritual Content
One character uses magic to heal another. Augers relay prophesies about certain characters.

Violent Content – Trigger Warning
Soldiers execute family members of a suspected traitor and threaten to rape another. Laia becomes a slave to a cruel master who mutilates her slaves. Some graphic descriptions of those instances. A man tries to rape a woman after beating her.

Elias belongs to an elite unit of soldiers which uses extreme methods of discipline as part of training, including making soldiers watch/jeer at a younger trainee being whipped to death for trying to run away. He participates in some violent challenges which pit him against his peers.

Drug Content

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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

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