Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir, Young Adult Book


Title:  An Ember in the Ashes

Author:  Sabaa Tahir

Ratings: 4.5/5 stars


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Book Review, Read at Midnight

In this Roman-inspired setting, the empire is ruled by the Martials, a group of brutal and merciless warriors.  The Scholars live oppressed lives and are often enslaved, Laia is one such Scholar.  When her brother is enslaved, she is forced to infiltrate Blackcliff Academy, an institute that churns out the empire’s most feared human weapons: The Masks.  Elias is the academy’s best student, but he’s also having second thoughts about this dark path. Just as he’s planning to leave the Academy, he’s forced to enter a dangerous contest to become the next Emperor.

“The field of battle is my temple. The swordpoint is my priest. The dance of death is my prayer. The killing blow is my release.”

This is one of the most talked-about debut of the year, so I approached it with some trepidation – hype often kills a book.  This is very much YA genre’s answer to the grim-dark trend of adult fiction. As apparent from the synopsis, this book is full of brutality, with threats of physical or sexual violence always looming near.  It makes you uncomfortable, and for the first time in a long time, I actually feared for our protagonists.  Sabaa Tahir’s portrayal of the violence is unflinching, and she has created one of the most savage characters in YA with The Commandant.

“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.”

The novel were narrated by both Laia and Elias.  I felt that Laia’s chapters were a little bit stronger, as her character development throughout the novel was very apparent.  I liked that she was not a naturally-born fearless, feisty warrior.  Instead she’s meek, full of insecurities and weakness.  However, what’s most admirable is how she gradually overcomes these flaws. Her strength of character comes from her grim determination to survive and to save her brother.  Elias’s struggles between doing what’s right and what’s expected of him is an old trope, but I felt it was handled quite well here.

They always underestimated me.

However, my favourite character of all is Helene, Elias’s comrade and childhood friend.  Although we never hear her thoughts, she is the person I felt for the most in this book.  I liked her ruthless efficiency, her enormous capability for love and loyalty, and her steadfastness in doing what has to be done.  I hope to see more of her in the future books.

The worldbuilding in this book was good, but very limited in scope.  I don’t quite understand their caste system either: I think we need more information about the roles of Scholars, Illustrians and Martials. Most of the book was spent in Blackcliff Academy, so I hope that in future installments we will be able to see more of the rest of this world.

There are some large flaws in this book.  In particular, the romantic angle ruined my experience.  I felt that it was overly fluffy and clashed with the atmosphere of the rest of the book.  Every time I hear about how so-and-so smells delicious/has a great bod/how close they are to kissing etc… it’s a rude jolt to an otherwise great read. I also felt that the one particular character in the love quadrangle was not needed at all.  Aside from providing some swoon, his role could have been fulfilled by someone else completely.

Overall, it’s a great read if you ignore the obligatory romance.  I would highly recommend it if you are looking for action, mystique and danger in a novel setting.

8 thoughts on “Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes

  1. An Ember In The Ashes has caught my attention ever since it released and I really want to get my hand on it, but unfortunately my local bookstore d and libraries across the region don’t have it yet.
    It sounds like it lived up to your expectations so I’m looking forward to it. 😀

    P.S. I really like how you write your paragraph follows by a quote from the novel, it’s very effective! 🙂



    1. I’m in Australia, too. Haven’t been able to find it in any physical stores either :c I’m impatient anyway so I usually just get the Kindle version for everything haha.

      Thanks for your comment ❤


  2. Hey Aentee, I’m glad to hear you liked Ember, it was definitely well deserving of the hype around it, that’s for sure! This is a really good review and you’re totally right about It makes you uncomfortable, and for the first time in a long time, I actually feared for our protagonists. . I hadn’t felt this in years – actually fearing for our characters, although admittedly, because of the first-person POV, it’s largely implied that the characters won’t actually die. I can’t think of any First-Person POV character to ever die in any book (but I’m sure there’s an example somewhere I don’t know about).

    Regardless, this was a really good book, and I completely agree with you about the world building. Here’s hoping that the sequel – whenever it’s coming – answers some of our missing questions (especially about the Nightbringer, and some of the more supernatural elements that were so casually mentioned and then forgotten).

    Great review and really cool blog you’ve got here!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting. Everything you write is so thorough, even your comment 😀

      I wasn’t so much worried that they’d die (apart from Helene), more that they’d get irreparably maimed by The Commandant. The only books I’ve read where main PoV characters die is A Song of Ice and Fire, but that’s what makes GRRM so meme-worthy haha.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks Aentee! ❤ 😀

        GRRM claims that he's only ever killed one 'main' character (Ned?), though I'm not really into the series…and yes, I'm a big fan of Helene in Ember (I'm shipping Hel and Elias, even though most of my friends still think Laia and Elias are a better match. 😛 )


      2. That is true, the TV show is probably more bloodthirsty than GRRM, people are dropping like flies. Be glad you aren’t into the series, the wait for each book is torture. Thank goodness YA books reliably come out every year lol.

        Me too! I thought I was the only one lol. Helene is giving me a bad case of Second Lead Syndrome haha.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Paula, thanks for commenting! And I can see why this book isn’t for everyone. I am the same as you, I like reading positive reviews of books I don’t necessarily like as well 🙂


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