Skip to main content

An Ember in the Ashes

Review

An Ember in the Ashes

AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is massively epic. Coming in at just about 450 pages, Sabaa Tahir has woven a compelling tale worthy of such a distinction. Set in a Roman fantasy world, readers are introduced to the gritty reality that is The Martial Empire --- a place where many are subjugated and even the Elite live in fear. Brutality is rewarded while even a hint of compassion is seen as weakness.
 
The novel follows Laia and Elias. Laia is a young woman just barely surviving in the Empire. After her brother is arrested for treason, Laia turns to a group of Underground Scholars for help. But even that comes with a cost --- she must spy for them in the Empire’s military academy. 
Elias is one of Blackcliff Academy’s top soldiers in training. A legacy warrior, he appears to be as ruthless as his fellow classmates but without the drive that motivates them forward. When the Emperor announces a contest to find his successor, Elias finds himself competing against his will and against his best friend, Helene.  
 
What’s so compelling about this book and what propelled me forward was that the risks were so high. Every writer’s manual you read will tell you that to make a book truly interesting --- and a character’s story worth following --- is to raise the risks. For Elias and Laia, the risks couldn’t be higher.
 
And while I call this book “epic” its prose is simple and tight. Sabaa Tahir was once an editor at the Washington Post and that shows in this novel. There is no purple prose to be found here --- just what is necessary to tell the story even if it takes over 400 pages to do so.
 
Every writer’s manual you read will tell you that to make a book truly interesting --- and a character’s story worth following --- is to raise the risks. For Elias and Laia, the risks couldn’t be higher.
 
At times I was a little taken aback by the cruelty. I found the characters to be a tad bit unrealistic in their awfulness. I believe the Commandant was supposed to be my least favorite character but I just couldn’t figure out why. What was it about her life that made her turn into such a wretched human being? Why did she brand her slaves and whip small children for pleasure? Why did she leave her baby to die in the desert? I don’t think that there was enough time to flesh out all that needed to be learned about her and I found myself bored at times, because of it.
 
However, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the story immensely.  When it was over I wished I could reach onto my bookshelf and grab Book Two. For all that I took umbrage at some things --- and that could be my anger at the unfair politics and unjust world that Sabaa Tahir has created --- the book was truly enthralling. The characters were also interesting enough to make me want to continue reading the book. I enjoyed their moral dilemmas in their world of gray. Nothing was quite what it seemed and that was a welcome change from the oftentimes Good Vs. Evil/Black Vs. White dichotomy we’ve seen in past fantasy books.
 
So should you read it? Obviously. It garnered a lot of buzz, pre-publication --- there’s also a movie deal in the works --- and I don’t think the buzz will stop once the book is released. It’s truly a sprawling narrative and one that I can see moving beyond this first book and into a massive series, although Sabaa Tahir has stated that she doesn’t have any immediate plans to write more in this world. Hopefully this isn’t the case and even if it is, I’m sure Sabaa has many more stories to tell. I will be waiting patiently until that happens.

Reviewed by Brianna Robinson on April 27, 2015

An Ember in the Ashes
(An Ember in the Ashes #1)
by Sabaa Tahir

  • Publication Date: April 28, 2015
  • Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult 13+
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Razorbill
  • ISBN-10: 1595148035
  • ISBN-13: 9781595148032