An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir Review: Like a Spark to a Flame

June 18, 2015 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 4 stars, Books, Reviews

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir Review: Like a Spark to a FlameAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Series: An Ember in the Ashes #1
Published by HarperCollins Australia, Voyager on April 28, 2015
Source: Publisher
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
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Set in a terrifyingly brutal Rome-like world, An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom. It's a story that's literally burning to be told. LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire's greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution. ELIAS is the academy's finest soldier-- and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he's ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor. When Laia and Elias's paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself. Vow your blood and body to the empire. Keep your heart for yourself.

An Ember in the Ashes is both your worse nightmare and a dream come true. For one, it paints a horrible society where scholars are forced out of their homes to be slaves by the Empire, ruled by ruthless, hardened soldiers. But what a journey it presents, one of love, honour, courage and redemption, for a scholarly slave girl and an elite soldier of the Empire, a Mask.

It launches straight into the action with Laia’s family being taken from her and her brother captured. To save her brother, Laia becomes a spy for the resistance and becomes a slave to the Empire’s Commandant. While some would regard her as weak, I could tell Laia was a sleeping dragon, biding her time and making all the right allies. We see her tortured, beaten and ordered around, but she never loses her fire and strength. She’s not run by fear, rather an undercurrent of courage and determination who will get her way. Although I’m not sure why she didn’t question her situation a bit more, banking her life on some flimsy promises without some concrete answers about her brother’s whereabouts.

What voice do I listen to? The spy or the slave? The fighter or the coward? I thought the answers to such questions would be easy. That was before I learned what real fear was. – Laia

The perspective I was really enthralled with was Elias’s. As an elite soldier, the empire’s Mask, Elias wants nothing but to plan his escape from their heavy handed ways. But he’s promised his freedom to stay put and complete the trials to plan out who becomes the Emperor and his General. There were moments where the trials that Elias had to undergo had me absolutely horrified, with the Masks being faced with increasingly difficult trials that they will have no choice but to participate in. The mutual attraction with his best friend Helene, his longing to escape and his fate will all clash here.

The ‘romance’ could be described as a not quite love square. You’ve got:

  • Elias and his confusing feelings for his best friend Helene
  • Elias and Laia, who have an interest in each other
  • Laia and Keenan, the handsome resistance soldier who flirts with her

I love best friend romances, so there’s no surprise who I shipped. Elias and Helen have the most complex relationship, and they got the most development out of the above. Although there wasn’t too much romance, this is the way I like it, subtle, present, but weaved into the overall plot so that it doesn’t take over.

“You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”

While the plot and character relationships were multi-layered, An Ember in the Ashes lacked solid world-building around how the Empire and the Masks, the Augurs and the Scholar’s predicament came to be. It’s simply described as an ancient Rome-like world, but it also had supernatural creatures such as Jinn, wraiths and sand efrits, not to mention religious Augurs who can predict and dictate what happens. While parts of this intriguing world were built into the story, the historical information would have helped really bring it all together.


Brutal, complex and absolutely riveting, An Ember in the Ashes really swept me away with it’s multi-layered plot and complex character relationships. There’s different power plays, a brewing resistance and so much at stake for both Elias and Laia, and I was absolutely hooked. With the brutal cliffhanger at the end, the next book couldn’t come soon enough!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Thank you to Harper Voyager for sending me this book for review. 

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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Twitter @happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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53 responses to “An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir Review: Like a Spark to a Flame

  1. Enjoyed reading your review Jeann, I also felt as you did, there were times when I wondered why Laia wasn't asking more Q's about her brother, but it all fell together nicely.

    The only thing I really felt strongly against was the love interest that is meant to be brewing between Laia and Elias, and Laia and Keenan, neither of which seemed realistic, I just didn't feel it. The only tension and love I felt was for Helene and Elias, and I still think they should have ended together.
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  2. It's a shame about the lack of solid world building because it's something I look for in books like these but everything else sounds stellar. I bought this on pre-order and as usual it's sitting on my desk weeks later but I'm definitely going to get to it soon for sure now after reading this review!
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  3. Charnell

    I need to hurry up and buy this book. I have been seeing so many amazing reviews for it. It sounds so good and I can't wait to read it!

  4. Lucy

    Beautiful review Jeann! You just make me want to read all the books! I'm still not sure if I want to read this one soon because of the epic fantasy aspect. I'm still trying to get into fantasy, but this one is definitely going on my want-to-read list.
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  5. Romi

    Oh yay! Amazing review, Jeann, and if that weren't enough, the last quote you added has me completely aching to read this. It sounds beautiful, dark, believable, dangeous and I surprise myself by really liking the sound of the romance. Those that are slow building between friends are so real feeling and have so much at stake, so I think I'll really like that element.
    And now so sigh over that quote.
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  6. readerswonderland

    Glad you liked this one! I completely agree with your review, I also felt more invested in Elias's story, and can't wait to see what the next book has in store for him. And the romance, "weaved into the overall plot so that it doesn’t take over," yessss.
    My recent post My TBR Jar and I are Frenemies

    • I loved it so much, Elias had a lot more going on here! I can't wait to see what the sequel has in store for us!

  7. Zoe

    I didn't like this quite as much as you did Jeann, but I completely agree with what you've said. My main complaint was the romance as well (the whole love square / pentagon / whatever it was didn't seem at all necessary), so I'm glad I wasn't the only one who felt that way. Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! <33

  8. allbookishhere

    I have been wanting to pick this one up for quite some time! Literally, everyone and their mother has read this and raved about it and I feel left out! I am so happy that you liked it, Jeann and even happier that the kickass plot of this novel is not too clouded by romance because that would have been disappointing! Awesome review!
    My recent post Review: Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond (Lois Lane #1)

    • I know what you mean, it's definitely a hyped out book! But I'm glad it meets the hype this time ^_^ thank you!

  9. An Ember in the Ashes sounds like a really interesting book, and it's been on my radar for quite a while now. I think what really interests me about these characters is that the scholars were forced to be slaves. that's something that I would love to read about. The romance also sounds like it was written just as I like it. I'm not a fan of romance blatantly thrown in a book and put at the forefront just because, but I will take subtle romance that serves a purpose for the overall story.
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    • Absolutely, it's such a brutal and harsh world and I just want to know how it all came to be you know? Yep, I prefer a subtle romance as well.

  10. I loved this one! LOVED IT LOVED IT LOVED IT. I know it's more considered fantasy, but it had all the makings of a dystopian. DYSTOPIAN! Usually any type of love shape that doesn't involve a Warner or Morpheus makes me cringe, but I didn't mind it in this one. That's the mark of an awesome read for me. Although, I did like Keenan more. I like that strong, brooding heroic type. Hubby's listening to the audiobook at the moment and loving it too.

    Wonderful review Jeann, so glad you enjoyed it <3
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    • I knowww, I loved it so much Kelly! Man, I need to read Splintered so I know what you're talking about. Thank you Kels! <3

  11. Hahah what a love square! Sorry that is all I read when I skimmed over because I'm going to read this soon (hopefully!) and I'm going to go in blind. I hope I love this as much as you did. I've been holding off because I've just been hesitating, BUT I SEE NO REASON TO NOW. Gah.
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  12. OooOOooOoooo. This sounds SO GOOD, and I swear everyone is in love with it. Which makes me excited and scared because hype never really agrees with me.

    It's a shame that the world building wasn't on point 🙁 Just because it's similar to Ancient Rome doesn't mean that's a free pass for not including descriptions and explanations.

    Also, the love square thing? I don't think I'll be a fan. I really enjoy books where someone likes one person, and that one person wither likes them, or doesn't. I don't know why these multiple love interests are still so popular. They make me sad (and annoyed).

    Even so, super keen for this book.

    Great review, lovely <3
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  13. I'm glad you had a better experience than I did with this book, Jeann. I didn't. I put so much stock in the romantic entanglements of the characters, and since I'm not a fan of "clutter", the messy dynamics didn't work for me.

  14. Same thoughts exactly!

    I didn't MIND Laia but Elias was definitely the real intrigue. He just had so much riding on it, especially since he knew his purpose pretty early on while Laia was different. I can't really explain it, but it felt different.

    I was on the edge of my seat for the plot as a whole. The trials made me want to cry, specifically thr third one. This book is everything about war and survival and more.
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  15. Same thoughts exactly!

    I didn't MIND Laia but Elias was definitely the real intrigue. He just had so much riding on it, especially since he knew his purpose pretty early on while Laia was different. I can't really explain it, but it felt different.

    I was on the edge of my seat for the plot as a whole. The trials made me want to cry, specifically thr third one. This book is everything about war and survival and more.
    My recent post RE: Booktubing vs. Blogging – The Blogger's Perspective

    • Yup, you're exactly right Nova! Elias was where the action was happening, but I feel like Laia will surprise us in the next installment. How brutal were the trials?!

  16. Nikki Wang

    Dude YES. I ADORED THIS BOOK. And the romance especially, though it was kind of unexpected with all those relationships. Weird (and awesome) how the romance didn't overtake the plot even with all that huh? AND YES ELIAS AND HELENE. GAWD THAT WAS AWESOME. #SHIPSOHARD

    • Howww good was it Nikki! The romance was definitely unexpected, but yes it was awesome. I wish the best friend won here!

  17. I'm really excited that you loved this one so much, Jeann. My friend Nereyda who doesn't like to read of lot of fantasy loved it too and I'm excited to try it. While I love the sound of the world building and the book being your "worst nightmare!", I'm a little worried about the romantic drama. So I'm going to wait for book 2 to be out before I can read it.
    Lovely review!

    • Glad to hear that Nereyda enjoyed it too Nick! It was fantastic, for both the fantasy lover and the newbie alike. Thanks Nick!

  18. Kara Terzis

    I borrowed this the other day. And it's been staring at me, sitting on my shelf, silently imploring me to read it. Unfortunately, I have SOO many books to read beforehand. Sigh. So glad to hear you liked this one though! The world, while horrible, sounds like something quite interesting to read about. Lovely review!
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    • Excellent, the romance was complex just like the rest of the book! Can't wait to hear what you think Jenny.

  19. I have this one sitting on my shelf waiting for me to find the time to pick it up. I'm glad you enjoyed it (though also slightly disappointed the world building lacks a little). Thank goodness it's getting a sequel too, people were worried about the cliffhanger and no news either way for a while there D:

    Great review Jeann 🙂
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    • I know, I picked it up after the sequel was announced which is good! Definitely a big cliffhanger there, so I couldn't have imagined not knowing.