Sunday, May 10, 2015

look at her go: reviewin' reviewin': an ember in the ashes

Name: An Ember In The Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
find it on goodreads
barnes & noble

synopsis: 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.

full, non-spoilery review under the cut!

The world that Sabaa Tahir has created in this novel is absolutely incredible. The synopsis describes it as brutal, and that doesn't even begin to cover it. It is terrifying and cruel, and every time the characters would break the rules set out by the powers-that-be, my heart would be pounding for fear that they'd get caught and then killed. It is a world that I would never in a million years want to visit, but it is fascinating all the same, and extremely well developed without the tedium that can sometimes come along with extensive world building. I thought that was an incredible part of this one.

That being said, I NEED A SEQUEL, and I need it soon!! I loved the ending, it was quick and dangerous and thrilling, but it definitely wasn't enough. I feel like there are so many more stories to tell in this world, and I sincerely hope that we will get more perspectives and characters and adventures. I could see this being turned into an epic series, and I would love every second of it. 

Though it was the terrifying but intricate nature of the world that stole the scene for me, the characters in this novel drove the story and showed that you do not have to be fearless to be strong. Laia was an amazing female protag. As a member of a race that was overtaken by the martial empire, she is used to keeping her head down and performing her menial work quietly. However, when her borther gets arrested on suspicions of working with a rebel group, Laia puts aside every instinct telling her to run and stands up, doing anything to try and help him. Her internal struggle between fear, loyalty and bravery was fascinating, and though she was a frightened slave girl working in the home of a monster, she was able to make a difference in people's lives, even though she wasn't a fearless leader or soldier. I enjoyed reading from her perspective, and I felt for her when she was in pain and struggling. 

Elias is one of the best soldiers in the empire, and having gone through over ten years of brutal training, he is about to finish his schooling and be released to work as an assassin in the empire. However, Elias hates his harsh surroundings, having been brought up for the first six years of his life in a much more caring, free-spirited world. He thinks the cruelty that he is shown at Blackcliff Academy is wrong, and he wishes to run away. Elias has a very strong sense of right and wrong, and he finds it very hard to go along with many of the day to day occurrences at Blackclioff. Whippings and disfigurement and even death are parts of daily life for the soldiers in training, and, for Elias, this is all too much for him. I liked his unwavering desire to do the right thing, and even when he makes mistakes, his intentions are still good. There is something pure about him, even though he is trained as a killer and a weapon, and that is such an interesting contrast throughout the story. 

The rest of the characters were interesting as well. I loved Izzi and Helene, their bravery and unshakable loyalty to their friends, and I was intrigued and distrustful of basically everyone involved in the Resistance. I hated the Commandant and Marcus, and I found the augurs, and especially Cain, mysterious and interesting. I sincerely hope that we will get to see more of all of these characters in further installments of this story. 

 There were basically two different stories going on at once. One was Laia's struggle to spy for the Resistance, getting information to help her brother while hoping not to get beaten or, god forbid, caught, along the way. Then there was Elias and his unwilling participation in the Trials– tests that the augurs put forth to see who of the graduating soldiers is strong enough to be the next emperor. However, these two storylines are taking place in the same place, and they often intersect. There is also a bigger picture, something sinister moving against the empire and all who live there. The way that Tahir was able to develop the two different perspectives on the same world and intersect them seamlessly, while also weaving in small details and scenes that inspire mystery was masterful, and I very much enjoyed both perspectives. 

This book definitely did not shy away from some tough things. There is death and abuse, casual mentions of rape and extreme sexism throughout, however, nothing felt too graphic in the context of the world that was created. I enjoyed seeing a full range of both male and female characters, some warriors, some seemingly weak, some utterly heartless, all of the above belonging to both genders. However, no matter what the characters in this novel did, all of them were strong in their own ways, which I believe is very true to life. All in all, I would recommend this book to high fantasy and adventure lovers, and anyone who likes mystery.


  1. Great review! I agree entirely. I had an issue with the love square, but that was my only real complaint. I loved how real and fleshed out the world seemed. The historical aspects really added to the believability. I also adored how dark the world was. I loved that the author didn't shy away from killing characters, hurting people, and making the world as terrible as it needed to be.

    Cayt @ Vicarious Caytastrophe

    1. yes!! the brutality of the world and the characters were necessary for it to be fully developed. if these aspects had been shied away from, it wouldn't have felt as real as it did!! thanks for your comment!


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