An Ember in the Ashes (Review)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Series: An Ember in the Ashes #1
Genre: Young Adult/Dystopian/High Fantasy
Page Length: 446 pages
Format: Hardcover (purchased)


Laia is a Scholar. Elias is a Martial. Under the Martial Empire's iron fist, the Scholars are fighting to survive. If you are a Scholar, you are either working class or a slave, and few rebels (or suspected rebels) are left unharmed or undetected. When Laia's brother is taken from her, she is willing do anything to save him—even if it means going into Blackcliff and never coming back. Blackcliff is a military academy where Martials like Elias Veturius are trained to become Masks, the assassin-soldiers of the Empire. Supervised and lead by the cold-hearted Commandant, even Blackcliff's students must face the violence and cruelty of the Empire. This cruelty and violence is part of the reason that Elias Veturius plans to desert.

An Ember in the Ashes is a breathtaking dystopian novel based on the Roman Empire with fantastical and mythical elements woven in. As long as I can remember, I've been fascinated by not only Roman mythology, but Ancient Rome in general. The politics, military strategy, and social structure of that era is a fascinating topic in history, and I'm happy to say that Tahir's twist on the era did not disappoint.


Before focusing in on Elias and Laia, I'd like to take a second and point out that Tahir did a phenomenal job crafting the slew of characters seen in An Ember in the Ashes. Even the characters with the smallest role in the novel were three-dimensional—not a single one seemed flat or a copy of any other character. I often find that secondary and minor characters are not as finely crafted and can seem very similar to one another, but I was pleasantly surprised by Tahir's cast of characters. She truly honed in on each and every one of her characters, big and small, and thought through how each of their minds worked and how they'd play a role in the plot. These seemingly minor details about the lesser characters really helped me appreciate An Ember in the Ashes even more, and proceeded to further my understanding of the main characters and their emotions as well.

“Always victorious."

The words of Elias Veturius' grandfather and the motto of Gens Veturia always ring in Elias' mind. As the heir to Gens Veturia and the star student at Blackcliff, it is only understandable the immeasurable amount of pride his grandfather feels towards him, and also the immeasurable pressure put on Elias as a result. Yet fame and strength are not on Elias' mind—all Elias truly wants is freedom.

I absolutely adore Elias as a character. He is a strong character who knows right from wrong even when others do not. Although he makes mistakes (he is human after all), he is willing to make amends and fix his errors. In a society where it is easy to accept social standards and leave people to suffer and die, Elias is willing to fight for justice. He is an extremely caring person who looks out for his friends and even for people he doesn't know.

“But I’m not strong. I’m weak, and I’m sick of pretending I’m not.” 

Laia lost it all, and she's struggling to reclaim the one person she might be able to save—her elder brother, Darin. Although she may be able to save him, she knows it won't be easy, yet she's still willing to take the risk.

Laia has a lot of expectations to live up to, and tries her best to do everything she can to make her dead family, and her brother, proud. I admire Laia's determination and strong will. Although she falters once in a while, she always finds the strength to get back up and fight again. I believe that despite her flaws, and despite her belief that she is weak, she is in her own way unbelievably strong for trying over and over and over again.


Tahir's writing is exquisite, and I was captivated from beginning to end. She was able to perfectly mix the world-building, character development, dialogue, and action.  The book was a delectable treat that went beyond satisfying my recently book-deprived heart and soul.
Tahir told Laia and Elias' story beautifully, and I cannot wait to see how the rest of their lives unfold.

"You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes."

My rating: 4 stars

About An Ember in the Ashes (via Goodreads):

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.


  1. See you just started blogging and you're already better than I am xD Great review Xan! :)