An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes

Title: An Ember in the Ashes

Author: Sabaa Tahir

Series: An Ember in the Ashes, #1

Publisher: HarperVoyager

Release Date: February 11th 2016


Five Stars

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.

– Blurb courtesy of

My Thoughts On…

…The Plot

“There are two kinds of guilt. The kind that’s a burden and the kind that gives you purpose. Let your guilt be your fuel. Let it remind you of who you want to be. Draw a line in your mind. Never cross it again. You have a soul. It’s damaged but it’s there. Don’t let them take it from you.”

Laia’s life is not perfect, but it is better than most of the Scholars, until the night her brother is discovered as a member of the Resistance and the Masks are sent to their home. Laia manages to escape, to run, but not before her grandparents are killed and her brother is taken away by the Martial’s. She flees to the catacombs where she knows the Resistance can be found, hoping for someone who can help her save her brother from the prisons where he has undoubtedly been taken.

But Laia’s journey is not easy, despite finding the Resistance and despite outing herself as the daughter of their once great leader’s Laia is forced to prove herself worthy before Mazen will risk his men saving her brother. She is put in the home of the Commander as a slave and forced to spy on her, to feed secrets back to the Resistance. But Laia is no spy, she risks her life spying on the woman who has made a name for destroying the slaves in her home.

“The field of battle is my temple. I mentally chant a saying my grandfather taught me the day he met me, when I was six. He insists it sharpens the mind the way a whetstone sharpens a blade. The swordpoint is my priest. The dance of death is my prayer. The killing blow is my release.”

Despite being a Mask about to graduate Blackcliff after years of brutal training Elias is planning to escape. He has everything planned and everything he will need hidden in a secret passage no one but him knows. But then the Augur’s make the announcement that everyone has been waiting for for centuries; a new Emperor will be chosen. The four competitors; Elias, Helene, Marcus and Zak are forced to undergo Trials, brutal tests that will determine who will be the next ruler of the Empire.

Elias’s plans to escape are put on hold when the Augurs mention his true path to freedom is through the Trails, but the harder they get the more Elias starts to doubt what it is he is fighting for. Meanwhile Laia takes not only her own life in her hands but also her friends spying on the Commander she starts to question what the Resistance is saying about her brother.

…The Characters

“You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes.”

Laia is not a strong character at first. As a free-Scholar she has not known the hardships the slaves have to face, and although her life was not perfect it was hers. Until her brother is taken. Laia ran and from that moment she suffered the guilt of letting Darin fight of the Masks on his own, of letting them take him without a fight despite knowing it would have caused her death. It’s that guilt that drives her forwards; that leads her to the Resistance and then to the Commander’s home as a spy.

However Laia doesn’t know the first thing about spying, and life in the Commander’s home is hard and cruel. She is beaten for even the slightest mistake and knows if she were to be found as a spy she would be tortured and killed. She trusts the Resistance because of who her mother was but she needs them to rescue her brother before it is too late and she knows time is running out for Darin.

“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.”

Elias has never felt like a real Mask, unlike the rest of his friends his silver mask has not yet fully formed to his skin and in his mind he rejects the ideals that have been forced on him. Despite that Elias is still a good soldier; he is strong, fast, and brutal when needs be but he seems to have more of a conscience than his fellow Masks. He feels guilt when he sees the way Laia and the slaves are being treated. Elias knows the Empire needs to chance but in spite of undergoing the Trials he has no desire to be the Emperor. All he wants is to escape and sees the Trials as the best way to achieve that goal.

“Laia and Helene: They’re so different. I like that Laia says things I don’t expect, that she speaks almost formally, as if she’s telling a story. I like that she defied my mother to go to the Moon Festival, whereas Helene always obeys the Commandant. Laia is the wild dance of a Tribal campfire, while Helene is the cold blue of an alchemist’s flame.”

There is the beginning of a love square in this book, and in spite of my dislike of love triangles I didn’t mind this one. Elias and Helene have been brothers-in-arms and best friends since the moment they met, but Helene’s feelings for Elias start to affect their close relationship, especially when Elias starts noticing Laia. Meanwhile Laia sees a lot of both Elias and Keenan, her handler with the Resistance, both men appeal to a different side of her but as a Mask Laia does not trust Elias, and as part of the Resistance she suspects is not telling her the whole truth she can’t fully trust Keenan either.

I really loved the dynamic between Elias and Helene; they have years of friendship and development already there to back-up their feelings towards one another. There wasn’t enough interaction between Laia and Keenan for me to have any impression of their relationship whatsoever. I feel like the story and Laia’s character development would have progressed the same without him.

…The Setting

“The story of Blackcliff’s origin was the first thing I learned as a Yearling: Five hundred years ago, a warrior brute named Taius united the fractured Martial clans and swept down from the north, crushing the Scholar Empire and taking over most of the continent. He named himself Emperor and established his dynasty.”

The world has a very Roman Empire feel to it and I loved the way everything was set up; the history of the Martial empire and the reasons the trial has been set up in the first place. We didn’t receive all the information in one go, there were parts of the back story that were only revealed as you went deeper into the story, but there was a lot of attention paid to detail. I felt the main back story in An Ember in the Ashes was the Martial’s history; why they launched war against the Scholar’s and enslaved them, their culture and their history. There was one thing that I didn’t feel was as well developed was the magic. It is hinted at and referenced, and we saw a lot of the darker creatures, but it seemed almost like they were dropped in the story without much of an explanation behind how the magic in An Ember in the Ashes worked.

I really enjoyed this book, and I’m glad I managed to get my hands on an ARC of A Torch against the Night so I can dive straight into book two of what is becoming an amazing series. The journey both Elias and Laia took isn’t even close to over and I’m interested to see, especially after the ending and everything that happened in the last few chapters of this book, what the story holds for them next.

What did you think of An Ember in the Ashes? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.

38 thoughts on “An Ember in the Ashes

  1. This book has been sitting on my shelf for months! I impulse bought it after seeing it around a lot, but I have to admit I didn’t know a thing about it until I read your review. Sounds interesting, though I feel a bit put off at the thought of a ‘love square’. But I think I’ll have to overlook that and pick this up soon! As always, great review! I really enjoyed reading it! 😃

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was sitting on my shelf for a while before I finally got started on it as well but honestly it was worth the wait because it’s a brilliant book.
      I think you’ll love it in spite of the love square 🙂 I actually don’t think the love square was a large part of the story as well. It didn’t take away from the plot or the characters or anything, it’s more of a background, hinted at more than anything else.
      Thanks Melissa, I’m glad you liked me review and I hope you like this book as well! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have a feeling I’ll love it in spite of that too! It’s good that it’s more of a background thing that doesn’t take away from the book. I’m thinking about picking it up once I get through the ARCs I have to read in September. By then the second book will be out and I won’t have to wait! 🙈😂

        You’re welcome! I hope I do too. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s always a worry with love triangles/squares isn’t it? That they take away from the plot. It definitely wasn’t the case with AEITA, and it was even less so with the second book.
        The second book comes out next week so by the time you get through your ARCs you can go straight from book one into book two, trust me it will be worth it. I reckon you’ll love this series as much as I have! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Exactly! That’s probably a big reason I don’t like them. That and I find them so unrealistic in romantic situations in books. They cause me to not like the characters a lot of the time.

        I can’t wait! I’ve actually been contemplating preordering it. Which I might just do before this week is up. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I know that feeling, and there are times when the lead doesn’t have enough chemistry with one potential love interest let alone two. Plus I really don’t like the constant back and forth of love triangles either.
        Also yes, definitely pre-order it! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Yep! Sometimes I don’t even want there to be a love interest. Though I’m definitely partial to books with romance, when done well. But yeah the constant back and forth of love triangles is annoying to me too!

        I so ended up pre-ordering it today. Along with several other books. Amazon has turned me into a pre-order addict. 😂

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I’m more partial to books with love interests as well but I prefer it when there’s only one, not two!
        I’m a massive pre-order addict, but if they’re books I’m interested in I need to know I’ll be getting them as soon as they’re released! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Same! Plus books with more than one love interest usually focus way too much on that and not enough on what’s actually going on in the book.

        I wasn’t previously but then I got Amazon Prime and also discovered the extra things publishers will sometimes send out when you pre-order certain books. Now I’m like *pre-orders all the books* 😂. Though not literally, I’d be broke if I pre-ordered every book I wanted to lol.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. And then it becomes all about the relationship with about 100 or so rushed pages at the end when the author realises there’s supposed to be a plot in there somewhere.
        Ohh I didn’t realise that about Amazon Prime, I’m assuming it’s only for Amazon Prime members that is. But same actually, if I pre-ordered everything I wanted to read I would be so badly in debt!

        Liked by 1 person

      9. YES! I don’t run into those books very often because I avoid them like the plague, but when I do come across one like that it’s terrible.

        Well its not really Amazon, it’s a side thing that publishers advertise on social media. I guess to get people to pre-order more. You pre-order the book and then fill out a form if they’re doing it for a book and add a picture of your receipt and they send out bookish things like tote bags or pins. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      10. I’m the same but there have been a few books with love triangles I have really enjoyed so I’m trying to keep a more open mind about them.
        Ohh, I’ll have to check some of them out then, I pre-order loads of books so I could be missing out on tons of book-ish goodies! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      11. True! There have a been a few that I’ve liked as well. Though they never felt like actual love triangles. Even if they technically were. I think if it’s done right it doesn’t screw with the overall point of the book.

        Check Penguin’s and Bloomsbury’s twitters! They have a few going on. If you’ve pre-ordered A Torch Against The Night or Empire of Storms they have forms for some bookish goodies. 😃

        Liked by 1 person

      12. That’s what you want with love triangles, for them to not feel like love triangles, and I think that’s something that’s well done in this book, the love square doesn’t really feel like one.
        Ohh, thanks for the advice, I’ll definitely check those two out because I do have Empire of Storms pre-ordered (A Torch Against the Night I’m getting when it released from Waterstones!) 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. YES, I am so happy you reviewed this book, I have been seeing the sequel around for quite a while, but I haven’t even read the first book, and I have been wondering if I should. It sounds like a good story, and I love the fact that the author paid so much attention to create details to her universe. Great review! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I would definitely recommend this book. An Ember in the Ashes has been on my to-read list for a long while before I finally got around to picking it up but I’d heard great things about it and they’re all well deserved.
      It’s a brilliant story, and the world-building makes up a large part of what I loved about it.
      Thanks Marie ❤ I really hope you enjoy this book if you do decide to pick it up! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much! This book was on my to-read list for a while before I picked it up but it’s well worth reading. It’s got an amazing story and I think you’ll really love it.
      Great idea! Plus the second book will be out in September so you can go from An Ember in the Ashes straight onto the next one! 😀


  3. Ooh, Roman Empire setting. I’m sold! I can’t get enough of books that have the Roman vibe happening. I love seeing how the author brings that to life. I’ve been eyeing this book up for a while and it’s on my TBR. I’m so glad you loved it. 🙂 Awesome review, Beth!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The setting was one of the stand-out aspects for me. It had great world-building throughout and I just couldn’t get enough. It was really interesting as well because I hadn’t read a book before which had a Roman Empire setting.
      I would definitely recommend picking this book up soon, plus the second one is out soon so you won’t have to wait long for it. It’s got some great reviews and from what I’ve read all well-deserved.
      Thanks Jill! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, that’s always nice when it works out like that. I’m definitely reading this series at some point. I have to read ADSOM and the Half Bad series first. Oh, and finish Red Rising and Splintered. I have so many more series to read than those. And I own the books. Ahh! 🙈

        Liked by 1 person

      2. In that case I hope you love this series as much as I currently am. It’s definitely nearing an entry on my favourites list!
        Also it looks like you have so many amazing books you need to get through next as well. I’d also definitely recommend you start ADSOM first! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      3. That’s awesome! 🙂 Yeah, I do. My TBR for the next month is insane. Right now I’m reading Throne of Glass and Harry Potter. Next week I’m planning to read My Lady Jane and possibly ADSOM. I’m going on a short vacation, so I should have some time to read. I hope. That doesn’t always go as plan. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I’m more of a mood reader so I will pick up whatever I feel like reading. If I force myself to read a book I’m not interested in then it’s a good way to work myself into a slump!
        I can’t wait for you to get around to both My Lady Jane and ADSOM, and yeah hopefully you’ll have loads of time to read on your vacation as well, or at least a little time if things don’t go to plan! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

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