Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir 

ember

Title: An Ember in the Ashes

Author: Sabaa Tahir

Published: 2015

Pages: 436 

Genre: Yong Adult/Sci Fi/Fantasy

Format: Book borrowed from the library

My rating:  4/5

Review:

“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

As a fan of the explosion of young adult series’ about post-apocalyptic worlds with teenagers as the main forces behind change, I was skeptical about reading and reviewing An Ember in the Ashes. I found a strong likeness to that of the Hunger Games for going through Elias managing The Trials and wanting to be freed. I was pleasantly surprised when Tahir kept me on the edge of my seat with every chapter. The alternating of Laia and Elias’ perspectives gives a refreshing look at the same scenarios in a different social status. I was unaware when I started that this was part one of a series, and I am curious of what the next journey is for Laia and Elias, but I’m getting ahead of myself here!

Tahir wastes no time jumping in to the action of the story, filling in necessary background as the novel progresses and is applicable to us readers. Most of the story, I kept changing my mind about several of the characters and wondering, who is actually a hero and who is just saving themselves, no matter what happens to those around them? I felt on edge about almost everyone but Laia and Elias – they both seeming to be the two most genuine souls throughout, even when faced with challenging situations that test their loyalties.

One of my favorite quotes spoken is the following: “Fear can be good, Laia. It can keep you alive. But don’t let it control you. Don’t let it sow doubts within you. When the fear takes over, the only thing more powerful, more indestructible, to fight is your spirit. Your heart.” This was a major theme for both characters, even with Elias being one of the most decorated and well-bred soldiers at Blackcliff. Taking risks takes overcoming those fears and finding that courage, being completely selfless which I believe was eloquently conveyed in both narratives.

Not knowing what their destinies are, Laia and Elias find themselves intertwined in precarious situations and are drawn to one another in unexplainable ways. A Scholar slave and a Mask Aspirant soldier – not the most natural or acceptable pairing in the Empire. This got me thinking about what we settle for and what may be just beyond our reach. As cheesy as it sounds, Laia and Elias figure out what is worth fighting for in the grand scheme of things. What they have both been communicated in similar forms is that “You are an ember in the ashes…You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.” What does this mean for their lives within this corrupt empire?

Always victorious

I found An Ember in the Ashes riveting and engaging, never a slow moment. As typical with most young adult books, the themes and symbols laid out here are applicable to adults – not surprising. I was not disappointed (other than wanting to know what happens next!). I would not doubt that this series eventually turns into a movie franchise. Looking forward to seeing what’s on the horizon for Laia and Elias.

Read An Ember in the Ashes  if you like the themes of:

  • Coming of Age
  • Duty and Loyalty
  • Defiance
  • Family and Fate
  • Overthrowing a governing body
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