An Ember in the Ashes: A Book Review

Posted July 20, 2015 by Carlisa in Book Reviews / 4 Comments

An Ember in the Ashes: A Book ReviewAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Series: An Ember in the Ashes #1
Published by Razorbill on April 28, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, YA, Romance, Adventure
Pages: 446
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

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.

An Ember in the Ashes has received all the hype this year. Seriously, so much hype. People love, love, love this book. After reading it, I can say that I can understand the hype and this is a very enjoyable read, but at the same time, there were many issues I had with the plot and story along the way.

The Issues

First, this story has a very slow start. At least for me. We were thrown into the middle of the story…which most of the time I like. I like learning about the world as you go, and not necessarily getting a ton of exposition all at once. So we’re thrown in…but I never felt like I learned much about the world and its history. So in the beginning I had a hard time finding the desire to keep reading. I actually almost DNFed it because I just wasn’t feeling it and I think this lack of history is why.

The story needs that history. The entire premise is the division between the Scholars and everyone else. The Scholars are hated and have become slaves. But why? And then there’s this school–Blackcliff–that is training the best of the best. Because of a prophecy that is barely talked about? And the mythology is ever-present but only explained in about two pages in the last twenty percent of the book. I just feel like I never got a true sense of the world that the story took place in.

And besides the lack of history, the setting was also missing. By some of the names, I got the sense that it was in someplace like the Middle East. But I never really knew for sure. I didn’t know what the buildings looked like, what the Moon Festival Laia goes to looked like, what really anything looked like.

And then we get to the romance. Or the romances, I should say. Laia and Elias are the two main characters–the two voices of the alternating POV chapters. And then we get the secondary characters of Helene and Keenan. And it’s not really a love triangle…but more like a misshapen love square. And it just didn’t seem super realistic or even necessary at some points. I think the relationship between Helene and Elias seemed the most realistic because they’ve known each other for years. They’ve literally fought and survived at each other’s sides. Love would form in that bond no matter who you were. View Spoiler » I think the biggest thing that bothered me about the relationships is that Laia and Elias both had two people they were “interested” in, having feelings towards. But when they were with one, the other was completely forgotten. Like Laia obviously liked Keenan but when she was around Elias, all thoughts of Keenan were out the window. And vice versa. And that just bothered me.

The Good

But despite those problems I had, I definitely ended up enjoying the book. Though I don’t have as much to say here, let’s talk about it.

I actually really did like the relationship between Helene and Elias. They had tension and a real bond forged between them, and Helene’s feelings felt sincere…and just real.

The action was beautifully written. You could see people fighting in your head very clearly, their movements and what was going on.

There are parts of the book which really make you think. One of the trials that Elias had to undergo was the Trial of Courage, where he had to defeat his biggest fear. Honestly, I don’t really want to say more because it will give things away, but this is the first scene where I really felt inclined to keep reading. It made me think and it made me want to know what was going to happen next. View Spoiler »

This quote: “I live with the guilt. But there are two kinds of guilt, girl: the kind that drowns you until you’re useless, and the kind hat fires your soul to purpose.”

The ending. The ending was all kinds of topsy-turvy. In a good way. If you follow my twitter, you’d know that with about 40 pages left, I started getting worried. And my heart broke. And then fixed itself. And then broke again. And endings are my favorite parts so I’m really glad that the ending was so well-done!

The Consensus

When I closed the book last night, I very much wanted to continue reading. I wanted to know what happens next and I wanted to get my hands on the sequel right away. Even despite the issues I had with it. And hopefully some of those issues are going to be cleared up in the sequel! We’ll have to see. So I’m giving it three stars–which, I hope you know, is not a bad rating. There was both good and bad and they balanced out to an overall enjoyable book, just not one of my favorites. 




  • Nancy Kay Cramer

    Great review!! I’ve been wanting to read this one.

  • The Observant Girl

    I am currently in the process of reading this book and I agree with the slow beginning! I can’t seem to get through the first few chapters and when I think about reading more, I am not as eager as I am with other books that grab my attention right from the beginning. But with the pros you listed, I will try to trudge through and hopefully experience what everybody else has been raving about. Great review! #Commenting365

  • Maddux Morse

    Can anyone tell me the page numbers for that VERY INTIMATE SCENE near the end of the book?
    I would like to share it with a friend.

    • Sorry I don’t own the book!