Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

The hype train is at full-speed ahead in the #bookstagram community for An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, so obviously I had to get in on the action. Y’all know that I can’t pass up a good book hype, right?

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.

This book is based off one of my favorite periods in history, Ancient Rome, so I was quite intrigued to see how this book was going to represent Roman culture in a fantasy setting. Red Rising is able to really emulate it because it’s set in the future, but An Ember in the Ashes is set a different world entirely. However, while Tahir was able to build this world and bring it wonderfully to life, I just wasn’t thoroughly as impressed with it as I was hoping to be. Call me a cynic, but I wasn’t captivated by the world of the Martial Empire. Don’t shoot me for saying this, but I can’t help compare it to the world of Red Rising and it just wasn’t as interesting. I know, I know, I’m sorry!

Laia is a great character. I appreciate that Tahir was able to really dive into character development with her. At the beginning of the novel I didn’t really care for her. She was too busy being scared and constantly belittling herself to make me feel sorry for her. The whole time I was thinking, yeah, we would never be friends. Harsh, I know. Luckily, by the end of the novel she has completely transformed and is kicking ass! Snaps for Laia and her road to self-confidence!

Elias is your typical anti-establishment teenager. He’s moody and self-loathing but in a good way. He sees the Martial Empire for what it truly is, one big terrible place. However, just like your average teenager, he would rather just run away from it then try to change it. Which makes sense considering that he’s seen it at it’s worst and has spent the last 14 years of his life getting his butt kicked at the military academy. However, it’s his loyalty and compassion that makes him such a wonderful character. It’s such a juxtaposition to the life he has been living and the job he’s training for, to become a Mask. The commitment he shows to his friends is very admirable as well. Unlike Laia, he isn’t afraid to do what’s right when push comes to shove.


But I think my favorite character has to be the Commandant. She’s crazy evil but I find her to be so fascinating! I was always extremely interested to see how she was going to react to certain situations. I can’t tell if she just suffers from a case of my-daddy-didn’t-love-me-enough or if there’s something else going on with her internally. I would continue reading the future books of this series if only to find out what her deal is, even if this book really sucked except for her character. It didn’t and I enjoyed it, I’m just saying!

The plot was a pretty steady uphill climb through the whole book. There are only a few lulls here and there but nothing bad enough that it makes you want to put the book down and not pick back up. But the last 50 pages? That’s where it leaves you begging for more and of course, right when it gets good, Tahir leaves us with a cliffhanger. Authors can be so sadistic when they do that to us, huh? But seriously, you won’t get bored with this book. I promise!

Final Verdict: 4/5 Stars