An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes

by Sabaa Tahir

Genre: YA Dystopian, YA Fantasy
Published: April 28th 2015
by Razorbill




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.

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.


There are two kinds of guilt. The kind that’s a burden and the kind that gives you purpose. Let your guilt be your fuel. Let it remind you of who you want to be.

An Ember in the Ashes may be flawed; but there’s no denying that it is an utterly entertaining and captivating read from start to finish. While I didn’t love it quite as much as the hype would have led me to believe, I have no doubt that teens will find themselves engrossed in this sometimes gruesome action-packed tale.

In the Roman-like Martial Empire, ruled by the iron hand of a tyrannical emperor, defiance is met with death. When Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, she knows there’s only one way to get him back: to seek out a group of rebels. The rebels agree to rescue Laia’s brother, but they have one condition: she must become an undercover spy at one of the empire’s most prestigious military schools.

Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after. Such moments are tests of courage, of strength.

Laia is a protagonist who I immediately connected to. She is not your typical kickass dystopian or fantasy protagonist – rather, she’s someone who is brave simply because that’s the only option she has left. She’s certainly flawed, but that makes her all the more likeable, and I admired her determination and her loyalty.

If there was one thing I would change about this thrilling novel, it would be the way Sabaa Tahir approached the romance. Basically, this sums it up:

emberWhile spying at the academy, Laia meets a boy named Elias, and they develop an instant attraction. Only problem? Elias’ best friend Helene is in love with him.


As if that’s not enough, Laia also feels sparks with one of the rebels, a redhead (don’t ask) named Keenan.

I felt that this was a romance that didn’t really do anything for the plot or the characters, and that it was just thrown in simply to appeal more to a young adult audience. The story would have definitely been stronger without such romantic entanglements. At the very least, the Kellan romance could have been removed.

All in all, a decent debut despite its flaws that is sure to please fans of Red Queen, Red Rising and The Hunger Games. I admit I’m curious to see where Sabaa Tahir takes this series.


55 thoughts on “An Ember in the Ashes

  1. Yes, I absolutely loved Laia! I think she’s strong, but in your typical kick-butt kind of way. I think I ship Laia and Elias. As for Helene and Elias…I wish they had just been friend without any meddling feelings of attraction coming in the way.

    Great review!

  2. Hmmm, I thought his name was Keenan but you know what, it does not matter to me. I shipped nothing. I don’t care for any of the romantic relationships at all. No to Keeia, or Elene, or Elaia or whatever the ship names are. I totally agreed with you about how the romance was added just to appeal to YA readers.
    Your review is awesome!!

    1. OMG YOU’RE RIGHT. Thank you for pointing that out – I’ve fixed it now. *facepalms self* Thank you – so glad to hear you felt the same way about the romance. 🙂

  3. OMG. ZOE!!! ME TOO. I was hoping you’d talk about the plot, though, because I so need someone to rant with right now. *heavy sigh* I got stuck in so many of the plot holes. I ended up giving it 2-stars. So our bookish twinness isn’t quite perfect today. *heavy sigh* Although, only one star off. xD I wanted to give it 3, but when I started my review, I just had SO MANY ISSUES…gah. It turned into probs one of the longest reviews I’ve ever written. heh. I think the romance was ridiculous and I ship Elias and Helene. I didn’t even understand the attraction Laia had for him. 😐 And I was 0% surprised about the plot twists at the ending. *le sigh* Have I read too much?! Gah. I seem to be guessing all the endings these days!!

    1. Only one star off, right? Not too shabby at all. But I completely agree with you that there were definitely some plot holes. And LOL – there was a plot twist at the end? It must have been so predictable I didn’t even realize it was supposed to be a twist. Ha.

  4. Oh don’t even get me started on Kellan. Ella’s and Helene is the only relationship in this book that makes sense to me. I just can’t really see Elias and Laia together. I get being swept up but the whole thing with Laia just seems so fast. Not enough backstory leading up to it I feel.
    Apart from that I LOVED this book. The whole world is so intriguing and I hope we find out not about the Augurs and what their powers are in the next book

    1. Kellan didn’t make sense to me at all either Karen. Like, do we really need another love interest? Glad you liked it besides that though!

  5. Thaaaaaat’s the thing with hype, isn’t it? Usually, it’s never as good as the hype promises; so, I’ve had this one sitting on my shelf, and while I am still REALLY looking forward to it . . . I’m trying not to get TOO excited, you know! Anyway, great review! I love the sound of the main character.

  6. I am one of those few people who basically haaaated this one. The romance totally did not do anything for the plot and it all felt so haphazardly thrown together to me! It’s always nice to see someone else who didn’t fall head over heels for this one, though 😉

  7. I can’t wait for book 2!! I was totally enthralled by this book. I read the whole thing in the plan ride to China back in March. I just couldn’t stop reading!! I love the ties to Ancient Rome, and I agree that this book does have many flaws. It was entertaining though! I’m so confused about the romance, it’s a total mess. I’m rooting for Laia and Keenan personally… I can’t wait to see what happens next!

    1. So glad you liked this one so much Rachel! It had its flaws, but it was still extremely entertaining; and I think that made up for it a bit.

  8. I felt exactly the same about the romance Zoe, even Elias and Laia didn’t fit together. The love interest storyline with Helene, we could have done without it. I think there was enough tension with being best friends and her belief in the Academy. Like Rachel, I’m hoping for a Laia and Keenan ship. I only seen a handful of reviews before I read it, so I was pretty much sheltered from most of the hype, but really enjoyed it nonetheless. Sorry you couldn’t have enjoyed it more Zoe, no doubt your next read will knock your socks off. Fabulous review! <3

  9. It seems like so many YA books these days really need to NOT include the romance. It doesn’t always need to be included, but honestly, I think publishers like it or something. I’m glad you enjoyed this one overall though. Thanks for sharing!


    1. I agree Lauren. I wonder if YA would be different if the false stereotype that a YA book has to include a romance in order to sell didn’t exist. Thank you for the lovely comment!

  10. I really thought the romance here was pretty unnecessary… the two love triangles (or I guess we can aptly call it “love square”) was just really weird to me. It was a turn off how both principal characters felt “something” for two different people at the same time. I wanted to love this one a lot and while I do agree the premise has potential and is captivating, there were some things that didn’t sit well with me that much. I was so ready to love this one but I only ended up giving it a (generous) 3 stars. Haha!

    Faye at The Social Potato

    1. I completely agree Faye. I mean, I can kind of see why the Helene/Elias/Laia triangle might have been necessary, but adding in Keenan just seemed so incredibly forced. Thank you!

  11. I thought there was a RED QUEEN ring to the synopsis. Sounds wonderful, and can you believe I have read overt twenty reviews of this book and not one of them shunned it? Zo, my friend, I’m broke. Lend me thy book.

    1. Now that you mention it, it really does have a Red Queen ring to the plot. And aw…I hope you’re able to get a copy soon Maddy!

  12. I actually DNF this one 🙁 The romance just annoyed me so much with the angst plus the writing-of the novel bored me to death lol atleast you enjoyed it more then me though 🙂 Wonderful review <3

    1. Aww…sorry you didn’t enjoy it as much as I did. 🙁 But glad we’re on the same page about the romance – ha. Thank you!

  13. YES YES YES. I agree with absolutely everything you’ve said- especially the romance bit. Keenan, go home, you are unnecessary at best. Not that I even liked Laia with Elias, but just maybe NOT have her kissing someone maybe? I digress. I totally agree how Laia was forced into bravery, which I really liked too! Fabulous review!!

  14. The ONLY time I felt anything at all about the romance was the dance scene with Laia and Elias. He just screamed hotness to me, and the whole scene was pretty hot and saucy, but after that I just didn’t…care? Like, if the romance had been better built upon I probably would’ve loved that scene even MORE because my shipper heart would’ve been going crazy. Instead, I was just like “Ugh, here’s another sign that this is a love square? Trapezoid? What the hell IS this?”

    I gave this book 4 stars originally because I did enjoy the fast-paced ending, but after stepping away…I just don’t care that much about it. Definitely more of a 3 star read. I liked a lot of aspects, but like you: the romance felt forced and had no plot effects, and it was more enjoyable and fun than anything else (which seems weird since there’s so much damn death).

    Also, I’ve met Sabaa and that has sort of tainted any love I have for this book or its sequel. :/

    1. Ugh, here’s another sign that this is a love square? Trapezoid? What the hell IS this?

      Those were pretty much my exact thoughts too Sydney – ha. I agree about the dance scene though; if I had to pick that would have probably been one of the few moments I felt the real sparks between them, you know? Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  15. Haven’t read this one yet…people seemed to love it, and the synopsis sounded interesting (ancient Rome AND magic in the same book!) but there’s no way I’m going near anything with a love square. I’ve definitely seen the unnecessary romance being used to sell a book, and I HATE when that happens. Not all teens like romance, people.

    1. Not all teens like romance, people.

      So, so, so true. I hate that when authors go to write YA books they think that romance has to be included in order for it to sell. Some of the strongest books have very little romance, you know? Thank you!

  16. I’ve been reading generally good things about this book, but I haven’t really seen anyone shouting about how amazing it is. Even so, I am pretty keen to read it because it sounds interesting and fresh – which can sometimes be hard to come across in such a saturated genre like YA.

    I am not liking the sound of that love square, or whatever it is. I simply do not understand why there are still books introducing multiple love interests, when almost everyone I know is completely over them.

    Great review, Zoe! 😀

    1. Thank you Chiara! I hope if you end up reading it that you like it as much as most people seem to have. Hopefully knowing about the love triangle beforehand makes it less annoying in the moment!

  17. Aah it’s sad to hear that the romance was a let-down in this case, and I have seen similar things said about that too. However, since I own a copy I do hope to get to it soon since the setting sounds pretty unique at least, and the other elements of the story sound promising. Thanks for sharing a fantastic review Zoe 🙂

  18. OH MY GOD, YES. This is basically how I felt about this book and I agree that it would have been a lot better without the romance. Like it didn’t do anything for the plot. Gah. But I too am curious to see where this series go and will most definitely pick up the sequel. and as always, fantastic review, Zoe! 😀

  19. I still haven’t gotten my copy of this one Zoe but absolitely everyone loves it and i know i must give it a shot. I’m not sold on the romance aspect of the book–why can’t characters of the opposite sex just remain friends sometimes? it happens in real life! 🙁 Alas, something just never imitate real life.

    1. I know, right? Ugh. It’s so annoying that whenever authors have two characters of opposite genders they automatically make them romantically involved. Like you said, there’s such thing as (*gasps*) a guy and a girl being friends with each other.

    1. I’m curious to see what you think of this Mel. I have a feeling you’ll either hate it or love it. Thank you!

  20. “She’s someone who is brave simply because that’s the only option she has left.” I AM VERY INTRIGUED. But that love triangle… *shudders* I have a feeling I won’t be able to ship the two MCs together because… I have a big thing for best friend romances. D: Awesome review, Zoe!

    1. I’m curious to see what you think of this Aimee. I have a feeling you’ll either hate it or love it. Thank you!

  21. I’ve read so many mixed reviews on this book–which is good–I get a feel for what’s good and bad. I think I’m gonna let this one alone, though. That’s a complicated love triangle going on there! Great review, Zoe.

  22. Yeah I’m definitely going to keep my expectations low, compared to all the hype that surrounded it months ago when it came out. It’s funny because I actually preordered this, but then I never ended up reading it! I think I’ll get to it next week or the week after! But anyways, awesome review Zoe! I’m seeing a lot of 3 star reviews on this, but it still sounds entertaining!

  23. I actually love angst, so the romance was one of my favourite parts of the book, no matter how much I might outwardly complain about it!And waiting for the sequel is absolutely agonizing!

  24. I’m curious about this one, I keep seeing mixed reviews but it’s definitely a book I want to get to. I loved Red Rising and The Hunger Games, but wasn’t a big fan of Red Queen so I don’t know… haha. It does sound like it’s an interesting read though, despite it’s flaws.

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