Home Book Reviews An Ember in the Ashes Review

An Ember in the Ashes Review

by T.L. Branson
An Ember in the Ashes Review

I’ve put off reading An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir for a really long time.

I heard about the series when it first released back in 2015 and almost read it then, but something about the cover just turned me off, so I never picked it up.

Then about halfway through the series, the covers got redone, and while I liked these ones better, once again, something just turned me off.

I like illustrations on my covers. Symbols, artwork, an epic scene, something like that.

And the real-life people set on a white background still just made me feel “meh” about it.

So a friend of mine has been wanting to do a buddy read, and she said she was going to read this book and I figured, “Why not?”

An Ember in the Ashes Review

Full confession, I’m a terrible buddy-read partner. I can usually manage the first agreed upon stopping point, maybe the second. But once I get into the thick of the story, there’s no stopping me and I tear through the book like an F5 tornado in a trailer park.

Such is the case with An Ember in the Ashes.

I’d heard that the opening of the book was slow and boring. But I didn’t really find that to be the case.

I mean, sure, it wasn’t as frenzied of a pace as the end of the book, but from the very first chapter, I was interested to see where everything was going. Once Ember in the Ashes sunk it’s claws into me, though, I was a goner.

Hook, line, and sinker, I’m a new Sabaa Tahir fan.

An Ember in the Ashes Summary

An Ember in the Ashes Sabaa Tahir

The book follows two main characters and alternates between their POVs evenly, every other chapter, the entire way through. Those characters are Laia and Elias.

Laia is a Scholar girl whose people have been made slaves in the empire. Her brother, Darin, is caught with sketches of highly sensitive, military secrets. The Martials, the ruling class, cart Darin off to prison and a Mask, their most lethal weapons, slaughters her grandparents right before her eyes.

For some reason, the Mask lets Laia go. She seeks out the Resistance to help her free Darin, and they send her to Blackcliff, the Mask training academy, as a slave to spy on Blackcliff’s leader, the Commandant.

It’s there she meets Elias, who is a new graduate that just became a full-fledged Mask. But he doesn’t really want to be one and the day before he deserts the military, the Auger’s (which are some mysterious, all-knowing oracle type folks) announce a competition to find the new Emperor and Elias has been shortlisted as an Aspirant.

Their two fates entwine and a bunch of stuff happens.

The Characters

Over the first half of An Ember in the Ashes, I found myself preferring Elias and hating Laia’s POV. Laia is weak and cowardly and, truth be told, that doesn’t change much throughout.

Anybody who knows anything about YA Fantasy books knows that Elias and Laia are going to end up together romantically, but before Elias meets her, there’s another woman in his life, Helene.

And I can’t help be wish that Elias and Helene could be together, because I really really like Helene. Though I feel like I’m in the minority with that opinion.

During the opening scenes of Ember, I was really confused because Laia was giving me serious 12-year-old vibes. I actually had to Google it to learn she was 17, and Elias is 20.

The Worldbuilding

The world of An Ember in the Ashes is really kind of basic. There’s generic terms like Scholars and Martials, but they’re just different words for familiar YA Fantasy tropes.

We don’t visit a whole lot of places and the scenery isn’t really described for us. In the same way, fight scenes are frequently glossed over or vaguely described.

Those things aside, the time and effort that went into planning character motivations and world history is phenomenal.

From the very beginning, the Auger’s know what’s going to happen, and they say just the right things and initiate just the right set of events to bring about the best scenario. We aren’t made privy to these reasonings until much later in An Ember in the Ashes, and still many more plots are left to be uncovered.

Some revelations regarding Laia’s parents, and who Darin is really working for, plus why certain characters do what they do are some of the most powerful revelations in the book and I loved every page of it.

I lived for those moments of understanding.

The Commandant

This woman, let me tell you.

She falls just short of becoming a new Delores Umbridge. In fact, I’d say she’s more cruel and brutal than Umbridge by far. But Umbridge is cruel with a smile on her face and a pretty pink bow to boot.

There is nothing soft about the Commandant. She is just plain cold.

It was really hard to read some of the chapters in the early portion of An Ember in the Ashes because of this. Tahir wrote an excellent antagonist. I hate her so much, yet I’m excited to see what future installments hold.

Final Thoughts

I absolutely loved An Ember in the Ashes.

Yes, it had it’s flaws, but I overlooked them for the sake of the overall story, which was fantastic.

I already had a copy of A Torch Against the Night, but about halfway through Ember, I ordered A Reaper at the Gates as well, assuming that I’ll be tearing through the entire series as quickly as possible.

Looking for more great books?

Check out my review of Dark Skies by Danielle L. Jensen.

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