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 AshesFeaturedHot
A remarkable work of dark YA fantasy—beautifully crafted, and laden with Arabian mythology.
Told in alternating dual POV from the perspectives of spy/slave Laia and unwilling soldier Elias, readers experience this alternate history-feeling dystopian fantasy from two very different sides of society. Ember In The Ashes takes place in what one might imagine from an ancient Roman Empire’s brutal takeover of a more scholarly Middle Eastern nation (without the word ‘Roman’ ever coming into play, of course). A world in which immortals, Jinn, efrits, ghuls, and wraiths exist and affect things—though very few humans seem cognizant or capable of detecting these supernatural forces.
It was a little hard for me to get attached to Laia at first. Not because she wasn’t a sympathetic character, but because I kept expecting her to die in literally every scene. She's constantly fearful, hopelessly outmatched, and shows no signs of the competency needed to keep herself alive. I appreciated that she wasn’t some ridiculously awesome warrior woman, but as the daughter of resistance fighters, a handful of survival skills would have made some sense. (Also would have gone a long way in helping me risk rooting for her outside of the basic instinct for railing against injustice.) But I don’t mean it to sound like more than half a criticism, because this aspect also highlights the degree of high-wire tension that’s maintained for most of the book.
Tahir’s writing is impressive. Her voice is strong, her worldbuilding immersive, and her descriptions evocative. It’s hard not to appreciate how the supernatural elements are gradually woven into the worldbuilding. For a good bit of the book, I found the overarching storyline more of a compelling drive than the main characters (especially since the chances of Laia surviving felt incredibly slim.) But I didn't really mind. I was curious enough just speculating over what was happening on a grander political and preternatural scale.
Content Note: This is a cruel, domineering society entrenched in misogyny; and as such, it’s made clear that rape is a commonplace occurrence. But while it is frequently implied, it is never shown in any graphic detail. (There is an attack on Laia at one point that seems to have this intent, but graphicness of that scene is purely in the violent brutality.) If the mere mention of rape is triggering to you, this is something you may want to consider before reading. This reviewer personally found its handling realistic-yet-tactful. And while the violence and torture places it solidly in the mature YA range, I wouldn’t call even those elements gratuitous.
For those who don’t care much for love triangles, be forewarned that there’s something of a love parallelogram going on here. Elias has an obsession-at-first-sight reaction to Laia (as do a couple of other male characters). And the romance angle seems a touch rushed into, what with how very little most of the characters get to know each other and that constant threat of death looming over everything. (Helene and Elias’ confusing best-friend feeling for each other is easily the most organic and convincing of the pairing options, mainly because they have so clear an established prior history.)
The leave-off is a bit of a cliffhanger, with lots of questions left wide open. But really, the only reason I haven’t charged on into the next book is that I’m waiting for the third one to release. ?
One night Laia’s brother is taken by the Martials and thrown into person, determined to free him Laia must seek aid from the Resistance. The Resistance will not freely save her brother instead she must work as a slave girl for the Commandant in order to spy on her. In a world where slaves are brutally beaten and raped with no consequences to the offender and the Commandant will happily punish you for being a second late, Laia must tread very carefully!
This was perfectly paced for me, not slow but slow enough that I was agonizing of the when the characters would meet again and what would happen next, seriously I was up until 2AM reading this Oh yes, it was that good, let me tell you!
There is a romance in this and how I loved it, there was a slight triangle and no concrete decisions were made but seriously this book isn’t about romance it’s about Laia risking everything to save her brother. I actually didn’t mind that the romance took a back seat it just made me yearn for those precious moments with the characters also Laia isn’t your average emboldened heroine, she’s young, naïve and completely terrified, she doesn’t want to do this but she does so for her brother and it’s makes way for some serious character development.
This book is dark, twisted and just delicious to read with it’s completely addictive writing. I honestly read this with a pounding heart from cover to cover, with the added elements of magic, trials and old myths coming to life; it could seriously do no wrong.
An Ember in the Ashes is not for the faint of heart. It is a terrifying world where the characters must make heartbreaking decisions. Often, these choices mean suffering and death for those that they care about. The masks are taught to fight and sometimes kill one another from the moment they begin their training. Upon graduation, they are put in charge of a society where they will be forced to torture and kill Scholars without question. There is a great deal of talk about prostitution and rape. There are instances of attempted rape and points where the threat of rape is used as a plot device to spur on male characters, which I could have done without.
The plot is exciting, with danger around every turn. Laia is spying on the most terrifying woman in the empire, who always seems one step ahead of her enemies and takes a particular sort of pleasure in torturing and mutilating those that displease her. Elias is facing a set of trials that threaten not only his life, but also his soul. The odds are stacked against him as the trials seem designed to prey on his weaknesses more than anyone else's. Despite this, there aren't really that many surprises in the plot. It was just too easy to guess which characters had ulterior motivations and how the story would play out. The only characters I was left questioning were the Augurs. It still isn't clear what side they fall on and how much they manipulated the outcome for their own aims.
While I liked the characters, I didn't particularly LOVE the characters. The only one I wanted to spend more time with was Helene and I really wish the narration had also been told from her point of view (fingers crossed for the next book!) I was not really invested in any facet of the love triangle (love square?) and, as with the rest of the plot, it was pretty easy to predict which way things would go.
We know that there will be a sequel to this book, but it isn't yet clear if it will be a trilogy. There are a lot of questions left to answer (who exactly is Cook? What game are the Augurs playing? Who betrayed Laia's parents? Who is Elias' father?) which means lots of material for expansion in this series, whether it be through more books or novellas (I would love to see novellas telling Cook's story and the young life of the Commandant.)
Bottom Line:While I am definitely not on the "best book of the year" bandwagon. I am also intrigued enough to say that I will read the sequel as soon as it comes out.
Love triangles. Normally, love triangles tick me off, but Tahir puts them together so well that they are greatly enjoyable to read. (Skip this paragraph because of minor spoilers.) The major romance is between Laia and Elias. However, there are some minor ones. Laia and Keenan (a rebel) makes an interesting couple, and the idea of Helene (a Mask like Elias) and Elias being together isn't a far stretch. Each pairing is great, and it is incredibly hard to pick a favorite. Sabaa Tahir makes it a very, very difficult choice. I admit that I like all three ships. (Polygamy and polyandry, I guess? That might work.)
The world of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is absolutely horrifying. Implied that women are treated as inferior to men, the Rome-inspired world has a scary military of "Mask." The Mask is actually a soldier who wears a silver mask. There are some gladiator-like scenes, and the supernatural elements of the story gives an incredible suspenseful subplot. Tahir puts mythological creatures, bringing a fairy tale touch to the book.
One of the two narrators, Laia is desperate to save her brother. Making a deal with the shady resistance, she goes to the nest of her parent's murderer and spies on her (Elias' crazy and heartless mother). A Scholar with an intriguing family history, Laia is interesting and a very motivated character. Her feats are grand, and she is a strong-minded character with a naive touch.
The other narrator, Elias is a soldier in the army. He is a Mask, but he doesn't fit well in the army. He is an outsider, though he is surrounded by friends. He is the son of Laia's parents' murderer, but for him, the apple falls far from the tree. He wishes to run away, but it is only fate (and an old friend, Cain) who brings him back. He is a greatly fascinating character, whose complicity serves to protect him from his enemies.
In conclusion, AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is a great start to this supernatural and suspenseful series with a Rome-inspired world. It is gritty and dark, not for the faint of heart. Laia and Elias are wonderful narrators, and they bring out the best in each other (so I ship them). The ending is absolutely satisfying with promises for more. I definitely can't wait for the sequel. I would recommend this to any reader with a fondness for love triangles, magic, schemes, and the supernatural/paranormal.
Rating: Five out of Five
This world is built with tact and an intricate attention to detail necessary to bring a story of this caliber to life. From the start we find Laia and Elias in two separate worlds. But through chance and circumstance, they are brought together within the walls of Blackcliff. Home to the Empire’s military, the imposing and regimented structure trains the most skilled and dangerous students. Elias is one of these students.
While there is the intensity of fights and raids and death that permeate every inch of this novel, it is the intimacy of these characters’ lives that is most remarkable. Despite the structured lifestyle he’s had for most of his life, Elias is not just brawn and brute. He is a collection of vulnerabilities and flaws and wants that propel his story forward. In much the same way, Laia is more than her past and the circumstances that land her behind the guarded walls of Blackcliff. She is imperfect, fearful, and filled with sorrow for her choices and their consequences. She is haunted. But it is through love that she finds a fierce need to survive and protect those closest to her at all costs. And this is the most empowering and endearing thing that results from both characters. This takes them from words on the page and transforms them into real people who readers will WANT to accompany through every step of the story.
Along with Laia and Elias, there is a Resistance plotting against the Empire, slaves, tribes, friends, family, students, and a ruthless Commandant hell bent on ensuring power remains with her. These characters weave a rich tapestry filled with complex relationships that complicate an already complicated world. And while family, freedom, and power dominate the landscape and the lives of the characters, it is love that blooms on almost every page. The love between brother and sister, between best friends, and even that which burgeons between two strangers as they get to know one another. Yet, the romance never overwhelms this story of survival.
Within this political structure reminiscent of ancient Roman times, there is also an interesting play between gender roles. At Blackcliff, there is only one female student allowed per generation and this falls to Helene Aquilla, Elias’s best friend. Helene is the essence of power and strength. She is a strong female character that can beat even the most worthy of adversaries. But it is the way she loves that gives her truth strength, and the same goes for Laia, and Elias. Instead of being dominated by the darkness and destruction that fills their world, they are all inspired to look toward the light.
Now this isn’t to say that this story is perfect and that there is hope on every page. Without defeat and guilt and sorrow and all of the other things that define life, hope would never seem as beautiful as it does in the world of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES. But what this book can teach us, is the power of possibility, of believing in love, and family to set us free. Because in the end, that is what Laia and Elias are striving for.
Sabaa Tahir is a powerful voice in the world of YA. Her writing is wrought with emotion, beauty, and a lavishness that (no surprise) has already catapulted this book to the bestseller list! While this is being called a stand alone, there seems to be more for Elias and Laia and hopefully more from Sabaa Tahir. We need her strength and ability to make us see that there is truly a flicker of hope, an ember, if you will, amongst the darkest of ashes.
Sabah Tahir’s debut is a book that’s sure to please everyone from fans of HARRY POTTER to THE HUNGER GAMES, and beyond! So pick up your copy today and find out why everyone is talking about AN EMBER IN THE ASHES!
Elias has been raised to be a Mask, a ruthless type of soldier from whom Emperors are chosen. Deserters are publicly killed, but he is willing to risk it for his freedom. The POV is third person limited alternating between the two characters. Their lives intertwine at various points, each a reminder of himself in the other.
One of the things I found really unique about this book was that the two main characters were not each other's primary love interests, and I liked that it wasn't forced. Additionally, this world is unlike any I have ever read- there are elements of a dystopian society but combined with fantasy (ghuls, jinn, etc.). The characters are each interesting and flawed- they lack a specific type of courage that they need to be satisfied with their current lot in life. What they learn throughout the book is the strength of their own character which is really enough to achieve what they need and want.
The story is carefully woven and their destinies are aligned, though exactly how much doesn't become clear until the end (which I did not entirely predict). The plot kept me on my toes and I found this book impossible to put down. It's beautiful, real (flawed and all), and fantastic.
This is probably one of my favorite mainstream YA fantasy reads in awhile.
Laia is just a normal girl, well as normal as a Scholar could be in this world. Least she wasn't a slave. Still, it's a very dark world. Life is not fun here. The Scholar's were overtaken and enslaved by the Martials. A brutal, vile people.
She's left without her family one night after a raid. Her grandmama and grandpapa were killed and her older brother was taken in the raid. She goes to the Scholar Rebellion and demands that they break her brother out since she thought he was working with them.
The leader says he will help her on one condition, she becomes a spy in the worst place ever, for the worst person ever but through that she meets Elias...
Elias is a Martial, he was breed for death. To be a solider that does nothing but kill or rape. Just horrid things. All this for the glory of the Empire.
Our two little lovelies end up crossing paths and find themselves drawn to each other but also others... this is my one gripe with this books. There are two love triangles... yeah two. Not cool. I don't like that at all. I just wish there was Laia and Elias. That would be good enough and fill my need for romance perfectly.
This world is not a nice place, it's one of the darkest places I've ever read about. There is hardly any hope, anything happy in this world. That being said, I could not get enough. I loved this book so much.
The end is something I did see coming, it was pretty easy to guess. That didn't make it any less good, I often see plot twists and still enjoy a book greatly.
There is also diverse characters in this book which is awesome! This book was so hyped and everyone wanted to read it and it has diverse characters! Look people at what we are starting to do! I consider this a major victory.
The writing is flawless, for a debut it's amazing!
I'm trying not to give spoilers and this is all I can really say. If you like dark and brutal worlds, with the smallest amount of hope. If you like character driven books and slight romance, then this is for you.
I also love the voices they used for the characters. It really helped me envelop inside the story. I can't stand audio books that have horrid narration. So not only do I recommend this book but this audio book as well. It's great!
This book has everything: fantastic world-building, complex characters and enthralling action. There are so many twists, surprises and the characters are forced to make difficult choices. It’s basically psychological torment for many of these characters, and very interesting to experience.
(warning: spoilers below)
The strongest part of this novel by far is the world-building. Tahir has gone above and beyond here to create a distinct fantasy world. The history is rich, modeled on Ancient Rome. It’s refreshing to read about a YA world where the pleasant side of life and go-happy people is set aside for more realistic elements, such as rape and slavery. Oppression, the importance of education, loyalty vs. free will, power, and right vs. wrong are just some of the themes the novel deals with and the discussion involved in important. This is such a powerful novel in incorporating dozens of themes in the background of the main plot. This is the mark of a very talented writer. Major props to Sabaa Tahir.
The story itself is told from two perspectives: Laia and Elias. They are both very different characters, who both show strength, power and independence in distinct ways. At the beginning of the novel, Laia is a frightened seventeen year old girl who’s world has been destroyed. When she joins the Resistance, their leader convinces her to spy on the Commandant of Blackcliff Academy and then they will rescue her brother from prison. Under the torture and grueling treatment from the Commandant, Laia really comes into her own. She grows from a shy, terrified young girl into a strong-willed, determined woman. Elias is the best soldier the school as seen in decades, and the heir to the powerful, proud and wealthy Veturius clan. He, along with the other students at the Academy, has suffered through years of life-threatening training and he no longer wants anything to do with the Martial Empire. He is ready to leave everything behind: his title, his family and his best friend, Helene. That is, until, the Empire’s perennial prophecy is finally set to be completed.
According to the Augurs, when the current Emperor’s family can no longer produce heirs, four Academy students will be chosen to compete in a series of trials against each other, where the winner will be named Emperor and the runner-up as the Emperor’s right-hand man. The other two will be executed. Elias, Helene and their mortal enemies, Marcus and Zak (twins) have been chosen as the four contestants.
The two protagonists do not actually have much contact with each other: Laia is trying to complete her mission and spy on the murderous Commandant – who just so happens to be Elias’ mother – and Elias must compete in the dangerous trials and fight for his life, as well as Helene’s. The only times they really spend time together is when Elias follows Laia when she sneaks out of the Academy to meet her contacts in the Resistance and they dance together at a festival; and when Elias wins Laia as a ‘prize’ and they spend the night talking together. In fact, and this is a rarity in YA fiction, the protagonists actually have other love interests, something I hardheartedly enjoy and accept. Elias starts to develop feelings for Helene, who has been his best friend for years, and is even more confused when he discovers she is in love with him. I absolutely adored their relationship and I really, with all my heart, hope they find a way to be together at the end. Laia, too, has a blossoming romance with a Resistance member, which I really enjoyed watching develop. I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that Tahir will introduce Elias and Laia as a couple in the sequel, which I do not want to happen. For the first time in … forever, I am not shipping main characters as love interests and I think I will be disappointed if Laia and Elias get together.
So much happens in this novel: its fast-paced, action packed and engrossing. The final scenes of the novel where so surprising I spent the last hour gasping aloud. The third trial was so terrifying and heartbreaking I had to put the book aside for a good ten minutes before I could pick it up again. It really reinforced the depravity and evil of the Martial Empire. The final trial was too easy to be true, and I was actually rooting for Elias to do what needed to be done. Essentially, whoever kills Laia will be crowned Emperor. Helene knocks out Marcus and begs Elias to kill Laia, so he would be crowned Emperor and she would become his second-in-command, the Blood Shrike. He chose not to, and Marcus was able to kill Laia (supposedly) and became Emperor, Helene his Blood Shrike. After Elias is arrested, Laia rescues him and they are forced to go on the run, setting up for events of the sequel.
When I finished this book, I thought that the novel would have been better off without Laia; perhaps a story about a young man becoming king instead. Laia was a great character, don’t get me wrong, but I did not enjoy her chapters as much as Elias’. That being said, I am very excited to read the sequel. I was rooting for Elias becoming Emperor and making Helene his Queen, so I wonder where Tahir will take us in A Torch Against the Night. So long as the series ends with Elias on the throne, I’ll be happy.
For starters, hats off to the author for the world that she has built in AEITA. Not only is it lush and intense, it is also something that can be defined as “realistic.” I felt the pain of the characters from this world, felt their fury, felt their helplessness. But I also felt the motivation of the Masks and their military attitude and their blind loyalty to the Empire. And that was spectacular. To be completely immersed in a book is one thing, but to dread everything that would happen to its characters (especially when I wasn’t too impressed by them) is a completely different story. The Ember world is brutal and unforgiving. It is pretty much a nightmare to be living in and I think that is what the author wanted to convey. So on the world-building, I have no complains. I could have not asked for anything better.
My major problem lies in the plot. Having read the book a few days ago, having slept on it and given myself the time and space to thoroughly think about it, I have recognised my major issue about AEITA to be the plot itself. Keeping the world in all its brutality and uniqueness aside, I wouldn’t say that too much happened in the book. The book charts roughly a month and a half, if I’m not mistaken, and literally nothing happens. Sure, Elias and Laia’s lives take a complete one eighty but apart from that, I wouldn’t say anything substantial, with respect to the outside world, happened. And since there are just two POVs (Elias and Laia’s) really, all we could see was how their world was affected. And that sucks because AEITA is a fantasy and I want to be able to know what’s happening in the world around them too.
Some reviewers have also spoken about rape being used as a plot device and you’ll get no denial from me. Rape has been used to move the plot along too many times and as a reader, I didn’t appreciate that at all. But, keeping in mind that the world the book is based in is not ours, I’m willing to let this pass. The author has tried her best to remain faithful in every aspect of the book’s world, and if rape was such an undeniable part of that society, then she has done nothing but show it as it was. Again, not a very pleasant thing to read but I think that in order to understand the atmosphere of the book and the plight of the characters in it, a reader needs to accept certain things about the book the way they are.
The writing was what really took it off for me. Had AEITA been written by anyone less talented in storytelling than Sabaa Tahir, I may not even have read the book in its entirety. Not only was the writing descriptive and evoking imagery at every turn, it felt like the writing of an author who has honed her craft. Absolutely spell-binding, coming from a debutante. If nothing else, then read the book only because Sabaa Tahir is amazingly eloquent when she wants to be and mysteriously eluding when she wants to keep a secret. And needless to say, AEITA has a lot of secrets.
The reason I haven’t talked about the characters in the non-spoilers review at all is because A) I don’t trust myself not to give away something huge and B) Even though I was not very impressed by the book, I didn’t want to completely discourage people from reading the book.
Let’s just cut to the chase. I didn’t like Elias and Laia together. There was no spark, no chemistry, nothing that even makes me think that these two will ever have true love between them. Not only did I feel that their romance was a mere plot device (which itself was a fail, because there really was no romance yet) I also didn’t quite understand what Elias saw in Laia. She’s a strong, resilient girl that I loved, but what made her stand apart to Elias? Why would he go against the Commandant and risk his life more than once for a slave girl? I do feel like Elias would have “fallen” for any girl in her place. So. No spark there AT ALL. Needless to say, I’m not getting onboard the Laia and Elias ship. EVER.
But you know a ship I might be shipping? Laia and Keenan. Keenan I absolutely loved. He was confused and scared and concerned for this complete stranger girl that he had an urge to protect. And he didn’t have to show any outward concerns. Certain reactions that he had that Laia caught were enough to show how hard and fast he fell for her. I’d go so far as to say that Keenan was a completely different person by the end of the book. Far removed from the arrogant prick that he was in the beginning, I just ended up feeling sorry for him by the end because he’d fallen in love with Laia and NOPE NOT HAPPENING BUDDY BACK AWAY SLOWLY.
Helene was another character I’d like to have seen more of. She was mysterious and unapologetic and strong and unfailingly faithful. I wish I could say that she would have been great with Elias but nope. I honestly don’t think highly enough about Elias to wish him a happy ending with Helene. While he was cowardly and whiny, Helene was courageous and a fighter. My heart was breaking for her at the end and gah. WHY DOES ALWAYS HAPPEN TO MY FAVOURITE CHARACTERS WHY WHY WHY.
All in all, read it for the writing, is all. Nothing more. The world, certain characters are just cherries on the cake.
The plot is intriguing
The writing is so wonderful