Review: AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa TahirAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Series: An Ember in the Ashes #1
Also in this series: A Torch Against the Night
Published by Penguin Group USA on April 28th 2015
Pages: 464
Genres: Young Adult, Action & Adventure, Survival Stories, Fantasy & Magic, Politics & Government
Also by this author: A Torch Against the Night
Hardcover provided by My Wallet (purchased)

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Sabaa Tahir's 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.

The Trailer

This is what YA Fantasy should read like. An Ember in the Ashes had everything I love about YA in one fantastically gripping book. It had a dystopian society, it had a wondrous world, it had heartbreak and angst, it had strength and cunning, it had a swoon worthy romance, and a bit of paranormal sprinkled throughout.

Two protagonists, Two story lines. I wasn’t sure when they would connect, but when they did it was magical.

  • Laia’s home was just invaded by the Masks. They took her brother and killed her grandparents. Her parents are long dead after being caught and killed as rebels to the empire. Laia is on the run and catches up with the rebels to see if they could free her brother. They strike a deal and all Laia has to do is spy on the Commandant to get information. Her servitude to the Commandant is heartbreaking. Will she get enough info before getting herself killed in order to save her brother?
  • Elias has just graduated. His next mission is to go into the trials. He will fight to become the emperor or the emperor’s second, like his mother before him, or he will die trying. He hates it. He is thinking of leaving. He is so disillusioned by the empire, he just wants to desert. He is caught the night before by his mentor, Cain. Forced to go through the trials, he discovers more about himself then he thought possible.

Each story is gripping.

Laia is a fantastic heroine. She is “normal” and very conflicted. She is beautiful and driven. She is tortured in this book and then she gets to interact with Elias. ELIAS! *sigh* I need a hero like that. He is strong and damaged. He has a conscience and wants more for his world. He goes for the girl most likely to be complicated. They were both very developed characters. We also get a good look at their motivation. Even the secondary characters had great appeal and stories of their own. We get so much out of each person and they don’t exist just to move Elias and Laia together. Nothing is easy for these two and I loved that things don’t just magically fall into place for them. This ship is complicated. I still ship them both so hard.

The world building in this book was fantastic. We get to see an ancient Rome in all its treachery through a fictional mask. Speaking of masks, their is a whole militia of them to enforce the Emperor’s rule, and Elias is the front runner in a trial for the power to rule the empire. The trials are brutal and heart wrenching. This world is full of brutality. There is child abuse and abandonment, slavery, and rape. Despite all of the dangerous aspects of this world there is this underlying feeling of hope throughout the story.

It is hard for me to write a review about this book since I loved it so much. I did a video review wherein I flail and ramble about my thoughts on this read.

This book destroyed me. I thought I knew good writing, I was wrong. Considering An Ember in the Ashes was a debut book, I was expecting so much less. I am blown away. Bring on the sequel.

My Rating

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About Sabaa Tahir

Sabaa Tahir grew up in California’s Mojave Desert at her family’s 18-room motel. There, she spent her time devouring fantasy novels, raiding her brother’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.

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