An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir: Book Review

Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Series: An Ember in the Ashes #1
Pubication details: April 28th 2015 by Razorbill
Genre: Fantasy, young adult

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 (from Goodreads).

A page-turning read about risks, bravery and loyalty.

An Ember in the Ashes revolves around the story of Laia and Elias, our two main characters, as each faces their own struggle- Laia in breaking free from her own limitations to save her brother, and Elias in breaking free from the grasp of the Empire and from the path set out for him.

I had no idea what the book is about when I started reading it. For the first two or three chapters, I had a hard time figuring out what was going on. Masks, Martials, Scholars, Blackcliff- I think the introduction was quite overwhelming info-wise though I still liked that it's somehow intriguing.

As I continue on with my reading, I eventually saw the whole picture and the state of the world they are living in. The dystopian element is, I think, the main theme of the setting but it also has a fantasy element in it, though yet to be explored in the next books.

Though we have two different foci in the story, Laia's and Elias', I liked how each ran parallel to the other. They're not really connected or related but their circumstances pushed them together, which is a refreshing element for me.

I liked how the paths of Laia and Elias crossed. The start of their interaction/relationship is slow and not too overwhelming but significant enough to create a bond of trust. I liked how there's no strong romantic element between them but each character is focused on their own priorities and tasks.

We also have the usual dystopian and fantasy tropes in the book, but I still loved how they are put together creating a relatively refreshing read.

There are still some confusing parts to me, especially in the fantasy side of the book, but I think it'll be clarified in the next books so I am looking forward to reading them!

The ending is also quite open-ended so I am excited to know what will happen next to Laia and Elias.

Map of The Empire 

Map of Blackcliff Academy

Laia - Laia isn't exactly the heroine type in this first book, at least not yet. I was not really able to connect with her, but I liked her resolve to save her brother, Darin.

One thing I don't like about her is how she kept on telling herself that she's a coward. (Or maybe that's just me and my dislike for negativity. Lol) But other than that, I am okay with her character. And I'm looking forward to reading more of her development.

Elias - I liked Elias' character. He's a good fighter and deadly if necessary. But despite his strong fa├žade, he is a good person stuck in his circumstances of being a Veturia. I did see his struggle in both wanting his freedom, and doing what's good for the people around him.

How his and Laia's stories will further intertwine is one of the things I'm looking forward to in the series.

I also liked the secondary characters. They are all interesting to read, even the villains. Their backstories are intriguing as well, so I hope to read more of them and how each story will contribute to our main characters' and general plot.

Also, I am dearly hoping that there will be no love triangle as the series continues. I think that will definitely spoil the series for me. Lol

I really liked the writing style of the author. Written in two POVs in first person perspectives, the author was able to tell a riveting story with the right amount of action and narrative.

I also liked the flow of the events, and I never had any dragging reading experience. Aside from my confusion in the beginning of the book, I was also able to understand and get on with the general plot nevertheless.

Since An Ember in the Ashes is the first book in a series, it's understandable that there will be unexplored plot elements. Thus, I really am excited to read the next books and continue on with Laia's and Elias' stories.


Overall, I really enjoyed reading An Ember in the Ashes. If I remember correctly, I almost finished this in one sitting, which hasn't happened in a very long time.

If you're up for a gripping dystopian-fantasy read, I definitely recommend this book.

Sabaa Tahir grew up in California's Mojave Desert at her family's eighteen-room motel. There, she spent her time devouring fantasy novels, raiding her brothers's comic book stash, and playing guitar badly. She began writing An Ember in the Ashes while working nights as a newspaper editor. She likes thunderous indie rock, garish socks, and all things nerd. Sabaa currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.


  1. I’ve had this book on my TBR list since before it came out, but I haven’t read it because I’m a slacker. I’m glad you liked it! I swear I’ll get around to reading it someday.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  2. It's a good read! Hope you'll be able to read it soon! :)


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