Monday, May 25, 2015

Review: An Ember in the Ashes - Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Series: Ember #1
Genre: YA, fantasy
Published on April 28, 2015
Published by Razorbill
Pages: 446
Read From: 5.11.15 - 5.17.15

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 their 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.


Dear An Ember in the Ashes,

Where to begin? Yet another book surrounded in pre-publication hype; I wasn’t certain that I would like you all that much. But I give almost every book a chance, and I was assured by various YA fanatics like myself that I would, indeed, like you. So it was with bated breath that I finally cracked open your pages and was prepared to be swept away by your stunning world.

Elias Veturius is training to be a Mask - one of the Empire’s elite soldiers and assassins. But his year of graduation is different. This year, a prophecy the Augurs long foretold will be fulfilled. He and four other recruits will undergo four Trials, and whoever wins is fated to be the next emperor. It isn’t an honor Elias wants; all he desires is to run away from Blackcliff and leave behind all of the blood and death. But what if undergoing the Trials - becoming either the emperor or the next emperor’s righthand the Blood Shrike - is the only way?

Laia is a lowly Scholar, long since conquered by the warlike empire of the Martials. Her parents, former leaders of the rebels, are dead and she and her brother Darin are living with their grandparents. Until the night her brother is taken by Martial soldiers. Suddenly Laia is on the run, and she is forced to turn to the rebels to help get her brother out before he is tortured to death. The leader, Mazen, makes her a deal: if she breaks into Blackcliff and brings back information on the Trials, they will help free Darin.

Neither Laia or Elias realize it, but their fates are intertwined. The reluctant rebel and the equally reluctant soldier. Together, they discover that there is much more going on behind the Trials - and the rebels’ cause. The battle is just beginning for their people - Martial and Scholar alike.

I still don’t know where to begin, Ember in the Ashes. Your world is amazing; it is brutal and dark and entirely believable. The Martial empire is rather similar to the Roman one, and Sabaa Tahir is not afraid to explore its grittier, more gruesome side. There’s blood and gore aplenty without being grotesque, and rape is something everyone knows happens to slaves at Blackcliff. The characters are battered and bruised and not at all spared from trauma and permanent damage. For once, our female protagonist is actually scarred and tortured and treated the way a slave probably would be. And Elias and his friend Helene’s training is tough. Punishment is handed out on a regular basis, most of the time resulting in death. The plot is twisty and creepy and intriguing. I wasn’t ever bored.

But. The characters. I will say right now that the Commandant is one of the most intimidating, terrifying, brutal, and sadistic villainesses I have ever read. She was amazing. I was, for the most part, rather indifferent to your protagonists, though. Laia was refreshing in that she was actually an average girl. Pretty, determined, unassuming, not inherently courageous. She was terrified, but her love for her brother pushed her to do what needed to be done, and she bore up in a truly inspiring way against the torture of being a slave to the Commandant of the school (who regularly disfigures, abuses, and punishes her slaves). I felt for her. At the same time, I could have smacked her for not listening to the people she should have; Cook, Teluman, even Keenan. Instead, she ran because she was afraid of. . . .knowing the truth? Discovering that she was putting her trust in the wrong people?

It was so nice to have a male protagonist on a military capacity. Elias is at heart a very good, decent, noble young man. He has excelled at his training, despite his mother the Commandant making things as difficult as possible for him. And when Elias is faced with harsher and harsher orders - orders that require the death of more innocent lives - he draws a line. But he struggles with it. Should he do what is needed and just do as he’s told? Or should he stand firm, no matter the cost? It’s not an easy position he’s in, and I also felt for him. But I just couldn’t connect all that deeply with either him or Laia.

And I think it was because of the romance. There’s a rather complicated love triangle/square going on in you, Ember in the Ashes. Laia has a thing for Keenan - a young rebel who is initially rude and condescending towards her, but of course softens as time goes on. And then Laia meets Elias, who encourages her bravery and taking things into her own hands. Meanwhile, Elias is caught between his best friend Helene - a fellow trainee and only female at Blackcliffe (yes, there is a reason for this and yes, it actually works) - and Laia, the beautiful Scholar slave-girl whom he protects and helps so he will feel less guilty about the blood on his hands. The romance didn’t exactly annoy me; I have read worse. I liked Helene a lot; she was strong and believable in her military role. I had issues with her later, but that would be spoilers. I understood Elias’s struggle; they were good friends and he was afraid any attempt at reciprocating her feelings would spoil things. But his “love” for Laia felt shallow; all he ever talked about what her beauty. And I couldn’t understand Laia’s flip-flopping at all. Keenan is kind of an ass and Elias just. . . .meh. I wasn’t feeling any chemistry between them.

Probably what annoyed me the most with all of the characters, though, was their lack of communication. So much would have been avoided if they had just communicated - or listened to the right people, instead of storming out before they finished saying their peace. I am well aware that that’s how life works. People are pigheaded and sometimes childish and will play the “I’m not talking to you” game because they can. But when it is so consistently done in a book, and the Reader knows that this is only going to cause a massive headache for everyone, it’s just plain annoying. I wanted to slap Laia, Elias, and even Helene more than once, and that feeling affected everything about them.

However, Ember in the Ashes, that ending was amazing. I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out and I was stunned speechless more than once. Your world was so believable and brutal and immersive, your plot engaging, and while I did not connect to your protagonists, I can accept them in their roles. The villains are so good and the side characters full of life. Weighing that against the frustration I held for Elias and Laia sometimes, I can only say that I was more impressed than annoyed. Your sequel can’t come soon enough.

Feeling excited,
~ Mara A. ~


  1. I'm so glad to see that you really loved this one! I'm a bit worried to read it because of all the hype that's currently surrounding it, though I'll probably still give it a try. Great review! :)
    Krystianna @ Downright Dystopian

    1. I'm always wary about reading pre-hyped books, too. But this one did deserve the excitement. :)

  2. This is all over! I am glad that you liked it so well. I plan on reading it at some point. Thank you for your review.

    1. It's the second new release of this year I've read that actually deserved its hype! :)


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