Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

May 13, 2015 Review 42 ★★★★

Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
(Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository)

Publisher: Penguin
Source: Purchased
Pages: 464
Release Date: April 28th 2015
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Love & Romance, Politics & Government, Young Adult
AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is a thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and pulse-pounding read. Set in a rich, high-fantasy world with echoes of ancient Rome, it tells the story of a slave fighting for her family and a young soldier fighting for his freedom.

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 is a tough book to review for many reasons, but the biggest problem is not knowing whether or not this is going to be a series. Based on the story, I’m assuming there will be other books but it seems as though there is so news for a sequel. In any case, this review is written thinking there are going to be more books.

AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is clearly very well-thought-out. The story is complex and has multiple layers of depth that all contribute to making the world what it is-and what a wonderful world it is. And let’s make it clear I’m talking about world building here, because the actual world is far from wonderful. It is a gritty, no holds barred, brutal world the characters live in, and I appreciated that the plot reflected that, even if a few things made me uncomfortable. View Spoiler »

Speaking of the world and plot, I really liked the backstory and detail given, although there could be a bit more explanation on why things they way they are, the workings of the main setting of Blackcliff Academy is well defined. This is a world and story that has huge potential, which is all the more shame if this does not turn out to be a series. So much is built up for multiple books and if this really is a standalone I don’t get it.

The characters were great; Elias and Laia were well fleshed out, but I did have a hard time really caring for Laia so I felt somewhat of a disconnect to the story.  There is a wide variety of side characters, each with different personalities and goals, but I think everyone needed a bit more character development, there didn’t seem to be a lot of growth, in my opinion.

AN EMBER IN THE ASHES takes somewhat of a different approach to romance, where Elias and Laia each have their own love interest from their current lives before the two cross paths. Some have been calling this a love square but I don’t think this is really the case. At least, I didn’t mind it or find it annoying at all. The romance does not take center stage anyway, because there are much bigger things to worry about.

It seemed like more time was spent on trivial things like roaming around Blackcliff and daily chores than the big plot events. View Spoiler » But when stuff was going down, it was pretty damn awesome, I was like heck yes I’m totally in this is so great!

All in all, I liked the book. I would definitely recommend it despite some of the issues I had, and would love to see a sequel.

Rating Report
Overall: 4

42 Responses to “Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir”

  1. Aimee @ Deadly Darlings

    I have seen a few reviewers complain about how rape was used as a plot device, and I would understand why that would make you uncomfortable. The romance is also making me worried. I have this weird thing where I usually end up choosing the love interest who is introduced to the readers first and/or has known the main character longer, so I’m scared that I might not ship Elias and Laia. D: Otherwise, everything sounds great! I love gritty worlds and butt-kicking scenes. ;D Fantastic review, Alise!
    Aimee @ Deadly Darlings recently posted…Mini Reviews: Written in the Stars, Lady Thief and Crimson Bound

    • Alise

      It did seem a little unnecessary sometimes. The romance worries me too, but for different reasons xD Honestly at this point nothing is set in stone and who knows who is going to come out of this mess at the end of the series? Plus it’s really hard not to ship them anyway xD Thank you :)

    • Alise

      I haven’t read that one yet but I hear the world is indeed brutal! I think you might like this one then :) Thank you!

  2. Micheline @ Lunar Rainbows Reviews

    While I’m not a big fan of using rape as a plot device, if there’s reasoning behind it, I might be able to get past it. I can see it being an issue in a brutal dystopian type world so despite it being upsetting, it’s realistic I guess. The romance issues sound like something I could easily ignore in this case – and I will! I’m more interested in this one for the killer world-building and action. It’s surprising that they spent more time exploring random things that focussing on the trials but HOPEFULLY there will be sequels so we can enjoy more development on those fronts^^ Lovely review Alise! x
    Micheline @ Lunar Rainbows Reviews recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday *114*

    • Alise

      In a few cases there is reasoning behind it but it does seem a little overdone. I agree, that’s kind of why I let it go. Oh, definitely! I’m really picky about romance and didn’t see issues here at all, really. I hope so too! Thanks :D

  3. Jessica @ a GREAT read

    OOoh nice! I can’t wait to read this one! That’s said a lot, but it’s always true about every book! LOL! This one sounds awesome! Dark, gritty, fantastical and just amazing!! Cannot wait to read this! Glad to hear you enjoyed it overall! Great review!
    Jessica @ a GREAT read recently posted…BIG NEWS!!! And a CONTEST!

  4. Sara L.

    Nice review, Alise! It seems to mirror a lot of what other reviewers have been saying in terms of a disconnect with Laia and questions about some of the world-building. I’m planning to read EMBER very soon myself, and I’m looking forward to it.

    Also, am I being picky, or is it weird that the names of the two protagonists (Laia and Elias) sound so similar?
    Sara L. recently posted…Beautiful People, Vol. 4: More About Eva

    • Alise

      Thanks! I’ve been seeing that too so it is kind of a relief, now I don’t feel so heartless xD Ooh, let me know if you review it!

      It’s funny because I didn’t notice until now, aha. A little, but they both are called by different things in the book so it wasn’t too bad.

  5. Kirsty-Marie

    I’m reading this soon so I seriously hope it isn’t a standalone. :( It does sound well thought out, and I mean, the world sounds freaking horrible, but it’s done (almost) well. Okay, characters, slightly disappointed, but again, really hope there is a sequel because then all the issues would probably go away. And yay for the romance not taking center stage (and even if there is a love square, at least you didn’t find it annoying.) Can’t wait to read this now! :)
    Kirsty-Marie recently posted…Fantasy In Real Life #FantasyIRLTag: Part One

    • Alise

      Right? I need more books! It’s an awful world in itself, but it is written so well. Yep, the romance didn’t give me any issues at all! Yay, I’m glad! :D

  6. Karen

    This is on my to read/review list and I am so excited about it. Glad to see you’ve enjoyed and I can’t wait to get into the world. Fingers crossed it’ll become a series then :)

  7. czai

    glad to know that you enjoyed this. I’ve been reading mixed reviews on this and I’m trying to keep everything in mind so that I won’t be completely disappointed when I read this. The world sounds like my type of read as you describe it – definitely one of the reasons why disappointed review can’t stop me.
    czai recently posted…[REVIEW] Falling Into Place

    • Alise

      Yeah, definitely keep it all in mind. I disliked some elements but thought it was an overall good book.

    • Alise

      Right now she says it is a standalone and I can’t find anything on it being a series D: Hopefully the popularity will change that. Yeah, can’t blame you. It’s not explicit and it is more mentioned that acted out but it isn’t too bad.

  8. Mallory @ The Leaning Tower of Tomes

    I’m currently reading this and I just found out the other day that it’s a standalone. I thought it was going to be a series… Also, I dislike rape as a plot device. I’m not very far into the book yet, but now that I know what’s in store, I’m kind of, I don’t know, a little reluctant now? I’m still super eager to read this, but I wonder if I’m going to LOVE it. All in all, great review, Alise. I feel a bit less blind going into everything now.
    Mallory @ The Leaning Tower of Tomes recently posted…Review — The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

    • Alise

      So did I! When I looked into it I was like D: It sets up so much for a series, it has an open ending! I know what you mean, although I still think you will enjoy this one! Sure, thank you :3

    • Ju @ Fictional Skylines

      My comment didn’t really make sense and I apologize because I’m sick and my brain is going haywire lol but basically I’m glad the romance doesn’t take center stage and the world is getting all the praise! Sabaa Tahir said “Right now, EMBER is a standalone. But I have my characters whole lives planned out, so I could write them forever” so I’m not sure if we’ll get a sequel or not.
      Ju @ Fictional Skylines recently posted…Ju Recommends: 7 Books to Read When You’re Sick

      • Alise

        Haha, I didn’t even notice, I thought it was fine? :P Yeah, I saw that too, I really hope the publisher makes a deal for more, there is just so much potential here!

    • Alise

      Right? I usually dislike love triangles (and especially anything with more sides than that) but this works pretty well and I loved that it wasn’t super angsty. I believe it’s just based on ancient Rome, so the setting is similar.

  9. Lola @ Hit or Miss Books

    I gave this book 3.5 stars because the open (incomplete) ending bothered me (we NEED a sequel!!) and, unlike you, the love square-ish annoyed me. Meh, I just thought ”Why couldn’t they remain best friends??” But, whatever, the world-building was great and I was entertained throughout. :) Great review!!
    Lola @ Hit or Miss Books recently posted…LGBT Recommendations for You ❤

    • Alise

      Yeah, seriously. If this will always be a standalone I’m going to be upset because of all the questions left unanswered. I get that, although you never know, because it’s open :P Thanks!

  10. Wattle

    I’m looking forward to reading this one, but I’d just assumed it was the start of the series; I had no idea there’s been no confirmation D: fingers crossed it heads down that path, it sure seems like it should!

    Great review Alise :) I’m going to keep that romance situation in mind before I pick it up (so pleased to hear it doesn’t take over the plot!)
    Wattle recently posted…Book Review: The Extraordinary Life of Lara Craft by Lola Salt

    • Alise

      Yup, I can’t find anything D: Tahir said for now it’s a standalone so I’m realllllly hoping there will be more. It should!

      Thank you! Yeah, these characters have so many other issues to deal with haha.

  11. Amir @ Not So Literary!

    You’re not alone, I read a few reviews mentioning that same aspect on your spoiler and how it made them uncomfortable. And I didn’t know this was a standalone! I actually thought it was a series. I’m glad that the romance didn’t take center stage (because not a fan of love polygons) because from your review this sounds like an amazing world and the author did a good job creating it, despite its brutality. I know a lot of people loved this book and I’m glad you did too Alise!
    Amir @ Not So Literary! recently posted…Two Worlds Collide: I’m Book Blogging for School!

    • Alise

      Whaaaa? I bet you don’t like love octahedrons either D:
      ;) There is romance, but other issues take precedence, if that makes sense. I really enjoyed the world, I think the brutality almost makes it more realistic, especially since it’s supposed to resemble ancient Rome. Thanks :)

  12. Romi

    I’m pretty interested in this, for all it’s darkness and the way it’s different sounding to so many other books out there. It sounds rather unique, and I’m surprising myself by how much I’m starting to like the sound of it, the more reviews I read- starting off, I wouldn’t imagine it to be something I would enjoy, though I think I might be wrong.
    Not fan in any way of that element that makes you uncomfortable, and I’m unhappy with the way it pops up in fantasy as this accepted thing, almost. Like, yes, these troops do it all the time and that’s the way it is, no one’s going to stop them on with your life! It’s horrifying, the act, and I really loath that it can be so easily accepted, even if it’s being painted in the negative light it deserves.
    Interesting that it’s uncertain whether there’ll be a sequel/series- here’s hoping! Especially since I’ve heard it ends on a cliff. Xx
    Romi recently posted…From me to you and back again -2-

    • Alise

      It has a lot of original elements but it definitely builds on some tropes that exist in the genre. Agreed! Apparently there was just news today that there is indeed going to be a sequel :D

  13. Olivia

    I actually do think this one is going to be a series from what I’ve heard. At first I thought it was a standalone but I was corrected by someone, and it seems like it has the potential to be one as well. I love a good fantasy and brilliant world building already has me hooked.
    Olivia recently posted…Top 10: Reasons Why I Write!

  14. Alise

    Yeah I just found that out too, need to edit the post. It is exciting, I’m really looking forward to more from this world.

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