Review: An Ember in the Ashes

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Series: An Ember in the Ashes, #1
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Publisher: Razorbill
Release Date: April 28th, 2015
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance
Pages: 446
Other Books By Author: Debut

“The field of battle is my temple. The swordpoint is my priest. The dance of death is my prayer. The killing blow is my release.”

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. 

I have to admit, I’m the kind of person who judges books by their cover (but doesn’t everyone do that subconsciously?) When I saw An Ember in the Ashes last year in May, it wasn’t something I immediately wanted to read- grey, stone walls, silhouettes of figures walking on sand. Later that year I had to pick a book for a school report, and man, this book was good. Really good.

Lesson learned- don’t judge a book by its cover.

You know how most books take time to start and really delve into the plot, like The Fellowship of the Ring or The Darkest Minds? This book started straight away- in the first chapter there’s already excitement and building suspense, and BAM, somebody important dies. This wasn’t just the beginning; the entire book was incredibly fast-paced, and I literally couldn’t put it down- I fell asleep waaay past midnight reading, I woke up with the book in my hands and finished it. Also, for a debut author, Sabaa Tahir is incredibly great at making epic quotes:

  • “The field of battle is my temple. The swordpoint is my priest. The dance of death is my prayer. The killing blow is my release.”
  • “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.”
  • “In the night, your loneliness crushes you, as if the sky itself has swooped down to smother you in its cold arms.”
  • “Fight back, Laia. For Darin. For Izzi. For every Scholar this beast has abused. Fight. A scream bursts from me, and I claw at Marcus’s face, but a punch to my stomach takes the wind out of my lungs. I double over, retching, and his knee comer up into my forehead. The hallway spins, and I drop to my knees. Then I hear him laughing, a sadistic chuckle that stokes my defiance.”
  • “Sluggishly, I throw myself at his legs. It won’t be like before, like during the raid when I let that Mask drag me about my own house like some dead thing.”
  • “This time, I’ll fight. Tooth and nail, I’ll fight.”

An Ember in the Ashes was one of those rare books that actually sparked emotions in you- for example, in A Darker Shade of Magic Kell would die, and in The Wrath and the Dawn Shahrzad would be strangled (nope, didn’t care one bit), but if Laia or Elias failed in their mission they wouldn’t just be killed. The Commandant wouldn’t let it slide so easily, and they’d be tortured.

Reading this book made me scared for the characters, wondering what would happen next, devouring the story as soon as I could- and yet I didn’t skim a single paragraph. Every single book I’ve read, (even my favourites), I’ve skimmed a paragraph or a section, but this book was so well-written that skipping a page seemed like a crime. Even the more brutal parts kept me fixed to the book. Well done, Sabaa Tahir.

✰✰✰✰✰ // 5 Stars


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