Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Title: An Ember in the Ashes

Author: Sabaa Tahir

Genre: YA, Fantasy

Stand alone or series: Ember Quartet, Book 1
How many books with An Ember in the Ashes – for now, Feb 2018, there are 3 books: this one, A Torch Against the Night, A Reaper at the Gates.

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.

Publisher: Razorbill
Publication date: April 28, 2015
464 pages


Format (e- or p-): ebook


How did I found this book to read
After reading Caraval, which took two weeks of my life because of slow reading in English, I was choosing what to read next. There were plenty of books, but I wasn’t sure at all what I could handle. That’s why my first try was A Darker Shade Of Magic and… I was bitten by Past Simple tense, LOL. Seriously! I was shocked and put the book aside because I couldn’t read it. It was difficult for me, even though Caraval actually was written in Past Simple tense too.

That’s how I came to the easier book. Let’s say, not simple like a book for children, but easier for people with pre-intermediate language level. Maybe for someone it could be important, I dunno.

At that moment I didn’t have many books in my TBR and book that I could read at that moment, so I just started scroll a bookstagram feed and found an amazing cover with such a beautiful title: An Ember in the Ashes.

And my trip began.

***** Everything below may contain SPOILERS *****

When you open the book, you start reading Laia’s story. All begin very quickly, and there’s no time to collect a full detailed picture. We get some image of her family and her relationships with a brother who has found problems. In the beginning, we also get the first mention of a Mask – special people who wear them and why they make people so terrified. He takes Laia’s brother, kills her relatives and wants to do more with her, but she escapes.

On the other hand, we see Elias who wants to escape too. When he stays in that dark dungeon and thinks about his escape route while other soldiers are catching a deserter, we see Helena, Elias’ best and only friend. She suspects him in planning something bad and stupid, and he decides to postpone his escape. In a short period, a deserter was hit to death in front of all students of the academy.

At this moment we have enough to collect the first bright images of this written world and rules. Here is the Emperor and his the best army ever, and Elias is a student-soldier in the private Emperor’s military academy. It’s the place where they train and prepare most dangerous soldiers in silver masks. Almost every one of them is noble and has wealth families. They and all Empire are the invaders. People, like Laia, are scholars, they are poor and slaves. Their lives are full of terror. They can’t get an education, steel weapon, anything to protect themselves.

Laia’s brother got something valuable for his people and is arrested. She connects with rebels to rescue him, and they give her impossible mission – to be a spy in the military academy and get to know how and when the Trial will begin. That’s how she becomes a personal slave of Elias’ mother who runs the academy. You may be wonder how it’s possible and why it’s so close to Elias, and, well, the end of the book is predicted, time to close it… no! I assure you this is a wrong thought. Yes, Laia is very close not to Elias, but to death. And here she realizes that all her life before with hunger and fear weren’t so bad as it is here, in the academy. She’s alone, scared, hit, cut. “Did he rape you?” – asks Elias’ mother after the night when Laia was given to Elias as a present for his winning.

And then the Trial begins. The Emperor is dead, and it’s time to choose a new one. He, or she, will be chosen from the best soldiers from the academy. And the best are Elias, Helena, Mark and his brother. These four young and brave people must pass all the exams to prove themselves. Two will die. One will become a new Emperor, and the second one will be his Bloodshrike.

Behind the curtains of these bloody Trial, Laia finds something unnatural, unhuman – Nightbringer, a dark and evil creature who plans everything to rule the Empire and beyond.

Well, that’s enough. The plot isn’t boring or straight. You will see many twists, unexpected scenes (for instance, Laia and Elias were dancing, Helena were singing, and, of course, Laia even were killed in the end), here also is love.


All characters in the book have many shades, stories, and motives. Even a brutal Mark, who likes killing and raping, isn’t always a bad guy, he has a light in his soul and love in his heart. And you will see this.

I like them all. The author has done her work well and created people in her book so perfect! While I was reading it, I was seeing them as if they were alive. Their smiles, and tears, and scares, and hope in their eyes. This is not a book with simple characters, but a whole world where one person is connected with another and all is complicated. Just take a story about one-eyes Izzi, a girl from a kitchen. Even she has her stories, even though all her life was only that kitchen and slavery. Even she has motives and hope and helps Laia no matter what.


As I said before, this is a fantasy world inspired by ancient Rome: slaves, soldiers, power, the Emperor, rebels, and so on.

But what it will be a fantasy world without a little bit of magic? Here it is. The magic in this book doesn’t look like fireballs and lightning from the sky. It’s another kind of magic, more ancient, more powerful, and more insidious than any other. It’s near Elias’ mother; it’s on Laia’s hand and in her soul; it’s in a dessert, it’s on a border between life and death (here I came further than the first book).

An Ember in the Ashes is an atmosphere book full of details and stories. I wonder if you can guess what tales are laid down in the core.


One year after I finished this book passed. I still remember how my heart was trembling and how terrified I was at some moments. This is a great book not only for young people but adults too. If a book can teach you or help you to understand something, it means that you got a good book. This book has taught me.

Questions through the book

I like books which makes me ask myself some question and find answers. Here my questions of this book:

  1. Will I risk my life to rescue my relative knowing that they 99% already dead?
  2. Will I become a slave for a purpose for any reason?
  3. What would I do for my people in such a world?
  4. Would I risk my life and career just for helping somebodies slave?
  5. Will I kill my relative to become an Emperor?
  6. Will I kill somebody, who makes my heart to ache, to become an Emperor?
  7. Or will I exchange the possibility of changing the whole empire on somebodies life?

And many other questions. Plenty of questions. All the book were full of questions for me.

Rating: 5 – Very Good

Buy the Book: Amazon, Bookdepository


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